Learn more about our previous 2016 Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design #ObjectsinFocus


Following the Grain

A mahogany chest of drawers on display in the drawing room at Kellie has a dark green and black marble top. The four long serpentine draws have silver dolphins as handles.

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Following the Grain
Lorimer was dedicated to staying honest to his materials, which meant using the wood to its true advantage. The design of this chest of drawers illustrates how the grain of the wood influenced the design of the piece. It is functional but also an object of beauty.

Lorimer uses the unique flame of the mahogany’s grain to emphasis the curvaceous structure of the chest and give the piece colour, form and surface design. The body ripples with vertical lines so the chest stands proudly on its bun feet, while the horizontal lines highlight the length and elegance of the four drawers.

Lorimer was a collector of antique furniture, but not keen on creating replicas. He wanted instead to create pieces that were highly functional and allowed the grain and texture of the wood to shine through.


Inspired by antiques informed by the local 

As a boy, Lorimer had witnessed the renovations of Kellie’s buildings and garden. He be-friended the local craftspeople hired to assist with repairs. 

From his mid-teens he was taught woodwork by the local craftsman Willie Wheeler, a wheelwright and joiner from the village of Arncroach. Later he would sit and discuss furniture designs with Wheeler’s son who took over the business after his father died in 1913.

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Chairs designed by Robert Lorimer
It was this connection with local workmanship, coupled with the arts and crafts movement gaining momentum at the end of the 19th century, which inspired Lorimer to create his own works using local materials.

During his first year in London, working at an architectural firm, Lorimer frequently visited the furniture department at the Victoria and Albert Museum to sketch. He continued to adapt styles and designs he admired to create new and unique objects that were both functional and beautiful. His drawings were annotated for the craftsmen he chose to create each piece. The notes specified fine details, from the type of wood used to the way its grain should lie.

The chairs in the image above were used by Robert in his drawing room and have seats pads embroidered with rabbits and butterflies by local postmistress of Arncroach.They were designed by Robert after he was inspired by a Georgian elm chair he purchased. The chair on the left was made by Wheeler's local woodworking studio in the small village of Arncroach beside Kellie.


Sketching at Kellie 

As a boy, Robert caught scarlet fever. Lying on the bed in the Vine Room at Kellie Castle, he must have spent many hours examining the plaster ceilings. When he was recovering he also spent time writing up his father’s notes on Kellie. These still survive today in a volume known as The Red Book of Kellie and provide insight into Professor James Lorimer’s research and renovations for Kellie.

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draw-leaf dining table
Robert gained deep and rich knowledge of how Kellie developed. He was given a study and workshop on the second level of the oldest tower where he worked with wood, sketched and completed measured drawings of the plasterwork ceilings and exterior layout.

Looking at his drawings, it is clear he was inspired by Kellie when designing Hill of Tarvit. The oak branches, vines and a segmented design in the plaster work ceilings can be seen in the dining room and library at Hill of Tarvit.

Robert Lorimer’s sketch of the library plaster ceilings, 1887, can be seen in the image above on the left.

Robert Lorimer’s sketch of the ‘Vine’ bedroom plaster ceilings , 1887, can be seen in the image above on the right.


Form follows function: Draw-leaf Dining Table 

This draw-leaf dining table is on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland to Kellie Castle. When extended it reaches over two and half metres in length. Lorimer was an avid collector of antique furniture and subtly fashioned elements of Regency, Gothic, Queen Anne and Dutch styles to create unique pieces that suited both the wood he was using and the function of the object.

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draw-leaf dining table
First made in Germany in the 16th century, draw-leaf tables adapted the fixed trestle table to solve the problem of accommodating different numbers of guests. Lorimer was inspired by this practical design and Gothic style furniture. He made the draw-leaf table in 1911 for the Scottish artist D Y Cameron, who was a close friend.

Lorimer ensured the form of his table followed its function by providing a smooth mechanism to allow the leaves at each end to be retracted. It was designed to be long enough to seat 12 and narrow enough to remain intimate.

This table reveals Lorimer’s love of concentrated simplicity. The clean lines of the top follow the grain of the oak. An inlaid band of ebony in the centre, echoes the rectangular shape of the table-top. The slow turned ‘barley-twist’ legs have corn kernels carved into their curves. The four legs lean out in a gentle and reassuringly sturdy manner to rest on a padded x-shaped stretcher.

Lorimer started his career in London and during these first years, discovered the Art Worker’s Guild and the theories of William Morris. Morris was championing the return to craftsmanship and appreciation of local materials in the face of mass industrialisation. Lorimer always followed this ethos in his architecture and design, advocating that the form of any object should follow its function and the materials being used.


The Captain of a Ship: The Staircase and Hall at Hill of Tarvit

As an architect, Lorimer believed he should foster a union between all the crafts, from metal work to textiles, woodwork and plaster.  Hill of Tarvit is one of the best examples of this holistic approach.

Lorimer had qualified as an architect in 1888. Focusing on domestic buildings, Robert believed his job was akin to that of a ship’s captain who must have knowledge of his entire vessel. This is why Lorimer’s furniture and interiors echo one another. 

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draw-leaf dining table
As an architect, Lorimer believed he should foster a union between all the crafts, from metal work to textiles, woodwork and plaster. Hill of Tarvit is one of the best examples of this holistic approach.

Lorimer had qualified as an architect in 1888. Focusing on domestic buildings, Robert believed his job was akin to that of a ship’s captain who must have knowledge of his entire vessel. This is why Lorimer’s furniture and interiors echo one another.

The same corn kernels seen on the draw-leaf dining table (see previous objects below) are carved into the barley twist banisters Lorimer designed for Hill of Tarvit.

To create Hill of Tarvit, Lorimer transformed an unassuming harled house (Wemyss Hall) into a showcase for the art and furniture collections of wealthy jute manufacturer, Frederick Bower Sharp. Robert was involved in all aspects of design, from the terraced gardens to the curtain rails.

He added a baronial hall to display Sharp’s Jacobean furniture, a Georgian dining room for furniture and table settings and a drawing room to display fine French furniture and clocks.

Lorimer’s drawings are held by the National Monuments Record of Scotland. The archive includes the plans for Tarvit with annotations by Robert suggesting where furniture should be placed.

Lorimer added a specially crafted niche for Sharp’s collection of Japanese and Chinese ceramics.


Learn more about our previous #Objectsinfocus below.


Sack Back Gown c.1760

This sack back gown was made and worn around 1760. It was owned by one of the Dalrymple family who lived at Newhailes in Musselburgh. The style of dress was designed to show off the fabric to full advantage, particularly at the back where the fabric falls straight from the shoulder in graceful folds. It is this feature that gives the dress its name.

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Sack Back Gown c.1760

The design of the silk is typically English with the highly realistic flower sprigs woven in bright colours against an ivory background patterned with flowers. It is possible that the silk predates the making of the dress but it was not uncommon for lengths of silk to be stored for years before being made up into a garment. A closer look at the dress and underskirt reveals slight differences in the design of the silk, subtle enough to go unnoticed at first glance. Perhaps two complementary types of silk were deliberately purchased en suite or perhaps they were purchased at different times.

Stylistically the dress shows the fashionable influence of the rococo style popularised by Madame de Pompadour at the French court. The addition of frills, ruffles, padded robings, furbelows and flowing curvilinear decoration to ladies’ dresses was intended to give an impression of lightness, playfulness and frivolity. Elements of the dress that are typical of the 1760s are the double sleeve ruffle, serpentine decoration on the robings, and the furbelow on the matching petticoat. Constructed with the side waist seam that was introduced in the 1760s, and trimmed with fly fringe, this dress would have been a fashionable piece. Along with the careful matching of the pattern in the sack pleats it also shows the dressmaker’s skill. 

A dress of this type required 20-22 yards of silk. This was divided into six widths – four to make the back with its wide pleats and fall of silk and two for the front. Depending on the complexity of design a dress could cost between £10 and £70. The Newhailes example is probably somewhere in the middle of this price range.

To complete the outfit, the sleeve ruffle would originally have been finished with a detachable lace ruffle sewn into the sleeve and a plain muslin or lace kerchief would have been worn at the neck. Shoes would have been made of silk, with a small shaped heel and fastened over the front with a buckle. During the 1760s hair was worn high from the forehead. 

The dress was carefully put away and preserved by the family at Newhailes which suggests that it had some significance, for example as a wedding dress. Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes, married Anne Broun in 1763, and she is shown wearing a dress in the same style in a portrait by Allan Ramsay. It is possible that the dress was hers and was kept in memory of her after her early death in 1768. Lord Hailes married again and it unlikely that his second wife would have altered or worn a dress belonging to her predecessor. Areas of wear and dirt show that the dress had probably been worn on more than one occasion but it has survived remarkably intact and unaltered.


Margaret Erskine of Dun c.1810 - 1830 by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) 

Margaret Erskine of Dun, wife of the 1st Marquis of Ailsa, a portrait that was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence and took 20 years to complete. Margaret was born at the House of Dun near Montrose and married Archibald Kennedy, later 12th Earl of Cassilis, in 1793. Both her childhood home at House of Dun and her married home at Culzean Castle, where her portrait adorns the magnificent Robert Adam oval staircase, are now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. 

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Margaret Erskine of Dun

The portrait of Margaret Erskine is typical of many of Lawrence’s paintings of society ladies, with its attention to rich fabrics, fashionable silhouette of the dress, open attitude of the body, and the romantic scenery behind that recalls the country estates of the sitter. The gentle tilt of the head and direct, confident gaze draw the viewer in.

The portrait was begun around 1810 when Margaret would have been nearing 40 years old and had borne seven children. As a child she had been described by the tutor Rev John Waugh as ‘a great romp, extremely beautiful, but at present delicate…accomplished by (her) governess in all suitable branches of female education, French only excepted’. Her portrait conveys her beauty and still youthful looks.

When the portrait was finally delivered to the Earl of Cassilis in 1830, however, it may have been a less faithful representation. It seems incredible that a portrait could take 20 years to complete but for Sir Thomas Lawrence this was not unusual. It was his practice to request half payment at the time of the first sitting when he would begin by drawing on the canvas in black chalk, studying the expression and character of his sitter. After that the commission could languish unfinished for years unless he was pressed to complete it. He accepted too many commissions to keep up.

The portrait of Margaret Erskine was among many that were listed in Lawrence’s studio in 1830 at the time of his death. Some had been there for decades, and were less than half finished. It is likely that the portrait of Margaret Erskine was finished by one of Lawrence’s assistants, perhaps John Simpson who is known to have been employed in completing portraits after Lawrence’s death. This probably accounts for the slight lack of vitality in the picture that usually characterised Lawrence’s work, and the absent finishing touch of white by which he brought life to the eyes. £84 had been received on account when the portrait was begun. There is no record of the final payment.

Born in Bristol in 1769 Thomas Lawrence showed a precocious talent for drawing from an early age. By the time he was 10 he was supporting his family with his pastel works and at 18 switched to painting portraits in oil. As a collector of Old Masters the development of his style was influenced by artists such as Rubens and Van Dyck. In 1792 he succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as Painter-in-Ordinary to the King, a position which brought prestige and an even greater increase in popularity. His best portraits are characterised by a vibrancy and dynamic expression that is not always matched in his later works; he was so inundated with commissions, and had such a poor head for business, that he relied heavily on studio assistants to finish off areas of the painting. Despite the number of commissions that went unfinished Lawrence remained popular up to his death in 1830 having earned a reputation as the most fashionable portrait painter of his era.


The Wappenshaw c.1863 by John Faed (1819-1902)

This magnificent Victorian painting is by John Faed, one of a family of talented artists who lived in Gatehouse of Fleet, not far from the National Trust for Scotland’s Threave Garden and Estate, where this painting can now be seen.

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The Wappenshaw c.1863

A ‘Wappenshaw’ is a ‘weapon show’. Formerly held in certain districts of Scotland to satisfy lairds and chieftains that their men were properly armed and ready to serve, by the 19th century this mustering of troops had become a friendly get-together for all of the community.

The scene is full of life and action – Faed has filled the canvas with scenes within scenes - one man receiving payment as he enrols, another shooting his gun, an onlooker taking snuff and a group enjoying the (mostly liquid!) provisions on offer. In the foreground some boys set off fire crackers, a suggestion that in later life they too may be part of the military action.

Faed based his characters on real people whom he knew - that is Sandy Inglis loading a gun for the next contestant in the shooting match. The people’s dress clearly demarcates the different classes: Tam O’Shanter bonnets and neckerchiefs for the working men, a brown velvet cap and jacket for the wealthy young man in the centre, a simple pink bonnet and yellow jacket for the rosy-cheeked working woman to the right who comforts her daughter who has been frightened by the firing, crinolines for the well-to-do ladies who look on from the safety of their carriage.

Just as the figures are based on real people the landscape - with its intense colours, rugged mountains, threatening sky and bare trees - is real and of the actual season.

First exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1863 The Wappenshaw was praised by the Art Journal as the best picture in the exhibition and is still today regarded as perhaps Faed’s finest achievement.

John Faed was born in 1819 at Barley Mill, Gatehouse of Fleet and although largely self-taught did train at the Trustees Academy, in Edinburgh, later moving to London where he forged a successful career as a professional artist. John Faed’s inspiration lay in Dumfries and by 1867 he was dividing his time between London and Gatehouse where he built a home, Ardmore. Settling there permanently in 1880 Faed became President of the Kirkcudbright Fine Art Association where he gave encouragement to young E.A. Hornel and his colleagues. John Faed died at Ardmore in 1902.