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28 Nov 2019

Introducing Violet Brodie: Part II – at home with the Brodies

Written by Lily Barnes – Morton Project Documentation and Digitisation Officer
A black and white photograph of a dog, a boy, a woman and a toddler standing beside a building. The boy stands to the left. He holds a card in his right hand and the dog stands at his feet. The woman stands to the right and holds the toddler, who holds a dark paper cut out of a cat in his left hand.
After her marriage and relocation to Brodie Castle, Violet Brodie appears to have transitioned seamlessly from playful, carefree socialite into her new role as wife of the laird, and mother to the future generation of Brodies. This change is evident in her photo albums.

In the volume spanning 1904–09, Violet begins in her usual scrapbook-like style. With the turn of a single page, however, this style is replaced by a more regimented and formal layout. Photographs are paired with restrained yet detailed captions, while ephemera, watercolours and other elements are missing. She also begins to take greater care with the amount of information included in the album. While her diligent attention to dates and places remains the same, she becomes more stringent in naming her sitters.

As part of her new style, Violet also becomes more thorough in attributing the photographs in her albums to specific photographers. It’s clear that her earlier albums do contain works by other photographers, both professional and amateur. But Violet herself does not directly draw attention to this; these images are given equal weight to her own, and to other materials in her collage-like assemblages. After her marriage, however, she does make a point of including this information. This is partly explained by her employing the services of professional photographers from at least three professional studios to create images of her family, friends and servants – all of which are in the later, more formal albums.

This use of professional services further indicates that Violet was thinking in a new way about both her photographs and the albums she created. Clearly, the subject matter was now more serious, or at least more important to her, so that she didn’t rely solely on herself or her friends and family to capture it.

So, what was this subject matter? Violet now focused on her young family. A large number of the photographs in her later albums depict her husband and their first two children, David and Michael. Due to their parents’ penchant for all things Russian, the boys are exclusively referred to as ‘Kuropatkin’ and ‘Peter the Great’ in Violet’s annotations.

A black and white photograph of a boy and a baby in a garden. The baby wears a long pale robe and sits in a chair to the right. The boy stands beside him. He wears a kilt and sporran, and reaches out to hold the baby’s right hand.
David (Kuropatkin) and Michael (Peter the Great) in the grounds of Brodie Castle (National Trust for Scotland, Brodie Castle)

Again, though the context of grand houses and Russian nicknames are probably outside the experience of most people today, these photographs remain familiar. The activities and moments recorded by Violet are quintessential to any family album: the children are seen on the beach, playing together, in christening robes, and posing with their relatives.

A black and white photograph of a boy and a toddler sitting on a gravel drive beside a building. Both wear pale coats and hats, and the older boy has his arm around the younger bot.
David and Michael sitting next to Brodie Castle (National Trust for Scotland, Brodie Castle)

On some level, we all use photography to depict ourselves and our family members. However, in the context of Violet Brodie’s aristocratic Scottish background, these images also fulfil another purpose. It’s possible that Violet’s more uniform style in relation to these photographs was prompted by a feeling of duty. Signatures and newspaper clippings were all well and good for fun with friends, but chronicling the origins of the next generation of the old and established family she had married into was something entirely different. Aside from taking photographs of her children, it’s likely that Violet’s images and the style in which she presented them was influenced by the knowledge that she was also creating some of the first images of the people she believed would follow in their father’s footsteps as Clan Chief.

Despite this potentially heavy weight, Violet’s sense of fun clearly persisted in her new role, although it was relegated to a separate set of albums. Whereas Violet’s albums usually bear her initials (VMH, for Violet May Hope, and later VB for Violet Brodie) and a date, she created two albums which simply bear the legend ‘KODAKS ETC.’. Even after her marriage, Violet continued these in a scrapbook style. But the subject matter of these albums tends to be more associated with the ‘play’ of travel, rather than the more serious business of raising a dynasty.

As we will see in Part III, the fates and fortunes of Violet’s family would yet have a far more dramatic effect on her albums. Read Part I for an introduction on Brodie Castle’s photo albums.

A page in a scrapbook photo album. The top half the page is covered with three colour cartoons showing animals –such as elephants and lions – at the theatre. To the right is a black and white photograph of a man and woman picnicking on a beach. There are three black and white photographs of dogs along the bottom edge of the page.
Violet continued to add ephemera and found items to her ‘Kodak’ albums (National Trust for Scotland, Brodie Castle)

The Morton Charitable Trust has been funding fieldwork on the National Trust for Scotland’s photographic collections since 2014. In 2018–21, this work will further raise the profile of the collections through research, articles, talks and dedicated projects. The project will also involve the digitisation of the collection of photographic collections from across the Trust, leading to an updated database with high-quality images.

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