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9 Feb 2021

The Great Eight at Broughton House

Written by Sarah L Jackson, Visitor Services Assistant
A view of a grand gallery room, with wood-panelled walls and skylight panels all along the ceiling. Gilt-framed paintings hang on the walls. The floor is covered by two large Turkish rugs. There is a very grand marble fireplace at the far end of the room, with two easy chairs before it. A number of wooden tables, some with vases of flowers upon them, stand around the room, with one in the centre.
Cared for by the National Trust for Scotland since 1997, Broughton House & Garden was the home of ‘Glasgow Boy’ E A Hornel (1864–1933) and stands in the heart of Kirkcudbright, a historic town and artists’ colony on the Galloway coast.

This impressive museum, combining both original interiors and exhibition spaces, is dedicated to Hornel’s life and work as an artist, collector and antiquarian. Bought by Hornel in 1901, Broughton House sits in a beautiful garden with a colourful blend of Eastern and Western horticulture.

Here are a few of my favourite things!

A brown, polished wooden small grand piano stands on the corner of a blue and red Turkish rug. The keyboard lid is raised to reveal the keys. Behind the piano stands a bronze-type bust of a classical-looking man, displayed on a wooden side table.
The baby grand piano in the Gallery

The Erard baby grand piano

This was purchased in the same year that Hornel’s great Gallery was built on the side of the house. The piano was bought for a purpose: to impress guests, and it looks wonderful within the space it sits. It’s a very good quality piano and it’s still a working one, used for concerts that are held here. It’s been heavily restored following a fire back in the early ’90s, but it still sounds wonderful. We were very lucky. Everybody in the high street turned out to remove objects from the house and get them to safety while the fire was going. Not a single object was lost. That’s testament to how strongly the community think about Broughton.

A tall rectangular slab of stone stands, at a slight angle, in a garden area, surrounded by fallen leaves and ferns. On the slab is a faded image of a Celtic-type cross.
The Dalshangan Cross in Broughton House Garden

The Dalshangan Cross

This was originally a grave-marker for a great chief and later used as a waymarker on the pilgrim’s road. Dalshangan is near the St John’s Town of Dalry. Hornel would often rove the countryside and bring things back to display in either his garden or his house. This was one of his finds. We’re not too far from Whithorn, which has this very strong history of pilgrimage and a place in early Christianity. Also, the Covenanters were very active around here. The link between the Church and this area is very strong.

A colourful oil portrait of a fairly young man, with a bright artist's palette and brushes in front of him. The man wears a black jacket, a white shirt and a loosely knotted cravat. Behind him is another colourful oil painting. The man has a faint smile.
Edward Atkinson Hornel by Bessie MacNicol, 1896

Bessie MacNicol’s portrait of Hornel

I think the world of Bessie MacNicol. She was a very brave woman trying to make her mark in a world that would not accept women painters. She was very influenced by the work of the Glasgow Boys, particularly by Hornel, and we have a series of letters that show that her feelings were quite warm towards him. Hornel wasn’t a great supporter of women’s rights, but he was supportive of artists who were starting out. He was encouraging and helpful; unfortunately, Bessie misread the situation and thought there was more to it than that. Sadly, this portrait did not receive a lot of positive criticism, largely because she was a woman. She died tragically young, at the age of 34. She didn’t get the credit that she deserved.

An old-fashioned leather trunk-type suitcase is displayed against a plain grey background. The trunk has several stickers pasted on its front.
Hornel’s suitcase

Hornel’s suitcase with travel stickers

Hornel was extremely well-travelled. He and artist George Henry (1858–1943) journeyed to Japan in 1893 and spent a year there soaking up the culture. It led to an extremely successful exhibition, which launched Hornel along his road to fame. However, there’s also a very sad element to this story for George Henry, who had worked equally hard on that trip, lost his entire body of work on the way back. We have an absolutely heart-breaking letter in our archives from Henry to Hornel saying, ‘I’ve lost everything, everything has been destroyed.’ The trip was more than just an artistic fad; Hornel loved the culture and was inspired by numerous aspects, not only in his work but also in his garden design and in the ‘curios’ he brought back with him. Japan informed his style and aesthetic for the rest of his career.

Read more about the influence of Japan on Hornel’s work.

A large, stuffed white goose is mounted on a board and displayed on a wooden side table, in front of some book shelves.
The stuffed goose in the Library

The stuffed goose

The stuffed goose is a bit of an anomaly in our collection and we don’t know too much about it! What we do know is that Hornel lent it to fellow ‘Glasgow Boy’ James Guthrie (1859–1930) for his painting To Pastures New, which is more famously known as The Goose Girl. It’s also quite likely that Hornel used it for a painting of his own, entitled The Goose Girl – that painting is in a private collection today. As I say, we’re not very sure about the full history of the goose, but we have these stories and it’s a hugely popular part of the collection.

“Objects like this are such an important part of the collection because they provoke questions from people who visit the house. We want people to ask questions and to find out more.”
Sarah L Jackson
A lady stands in a library room beside some books shelves with glass doors. She rests one arm on a wooden step ladder. She wears a navy National Trust for Scotland jacket.
A half portrait of an older man, shown leaning against a wall. He wears a military red tunic with a double row of buttons. He holds a pipe in one hand. The expression on his grey, bearded face is one of exhaustion.
Portrait of a Man in a Red Tunic by E A Hornel, 1885

Man in a Red Tunic, an early work by Hornel

This is a very early painting of Hornel’s – he actually painted it when he was just 21 years old. It’s a remarkable painting in a lot of ways. It is very well observed. It was one of his last pieces before he returned to Scotland from his studies in Antwerp to make a career from his art. He painted three versions of it in all. You can see one here in the collection, there’s one on display in Harrogate, and the third is in a private collection.

A display of a variety of items is laid out on a marbled surface. In the top left is a dark, folded shawl. Beside it, several official papers are fanned out. They lie on top of a brown padded envelope, labelled Mary Timney's shawl; Executed at Dumfries on ...
Mary Timney’s shawl

Mary Timney’s shawl and the court papers

Mary Timney was the last woman to be publicly hanged in Dumfries in 1862, for the murder of a neighbour. Hornel somehow managed to get hold of the shawl that was worn by Mary Timney. Bloodstained sections have been cut out of it, which were sent to Edinburgh for forensic examination during the court case. We have the full court records that go with that, and a photograph of the three children who were left when she died. It’s a chilling and tragic story, and an extraordinary item. Hornel was very concerned that the histories of people from the local area were recorded, not just the histories of the great and worthy, but of ordinary people as well.

An old poetry book is displayed open against a black background. It is held open by two silk cords. The book is open at Robert Burns's poem The Cotter's Saturday Night.
Our first edition of Burns’s first published work: Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect

Burns’s first edition

Burns’s political message was very appealing to ordinary people, and Hornel was a passionate Burnsian. We have the fourth-largest collection of Burns material anywhere in the world here at Broughton House. It covers a vast range of items: everything from our first edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect and several other first editions, to scraps of poetry in Burns’s handwriting, interesting letters and invitations to various Burns Club suppers. Hornel was actually the president of the Dumfries Burns Club for a little while. Hornel’s sister Tizzy continued to add items to the Burns collection, even after he died.

See more original Robert Burns works at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

This story first appeared in The Scots Magazine.

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