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18 Jul 2019

The lost Lorimer: rediscovering the extraordinary life of Hannah Lorimer – Kellie Castle

Written by Michelle Atherton – Lead Inventory Officer, Project Reveal Team East
An oil painting of a woman sitting on a wooden chair in an interior. She wears a green dress, and is embroidering a large red cloth which covers her legs.
Over the past few years, Project Reveal and the Morton Photography Project have been working to document and digitise the National Trust for Scotland’s historical collections. Along the way, they have discovered the stories of several women and girls. Some are already known to Trust staff and visitors, while some have been overshadowed by others associated with them, or simply overlooked and forgotten. Throughout this series, members of the project teams will share their experiences, thoughts and research to show how the objects we care for can reveal new ways of thinking about Scotland’s women.

It’s no surprise that Kellie Castle was once home to a family of famous artists and great minds. Visitors to the renovated castle can immediately see the hand of the talented Lorimer family in almost every element of the property. Paintings by John Henry Lorimer cover the walls, and furniture designed by Robert Lorimer fills the rooms. The stables feature an exhibition dedicated to Hew Lorimer, the prolific sculptor. But it’s only recently that attention has been drawn to another, lesser-known artist in the family: Hannah Lorimer.

Hannah’s legacy has been overshadowed by the fame of her male relatives and her husband, Sir Everard im Thurn, an explorer and the governor of Fiji. Furthermore, Hannah never considered herself a professional artist. It’s our duty to now ‘reveal’ her talent and share her story.

Hannah created art in many media including music, needlework, painting and sculpture. She practised painting with her brother John Henry, and even exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy before he did. You can find her copies of Old Masters’ paintings on the walls of Kellie Castle.

A round oil painting of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus on her lap. The pair are surrounded by long-haired attendants, who may be angels or saints.
Hannah’s copy of Madonna of the Magnificat by Sandro Botticelli (© National Trust for Scotland, Kellie Castle)

In this portrait by John Henry we can witness Hannah’s dedication to her craft – even as she sits for a painting, her brow is furrowed in concentration for her embroidery.

An oil painting of a woman sitting on a wooden chair in an interior. She wears a green dress, and is embroidering a large red cloth which covers her legs.
John Henry Lorimer, Hannah Lorimer Embroidering a Bedcover, 1885 (© National Trust for Scotland, Kellie Castle)

Hannah married Sir Everard im Thurn in 1895 at the age of 40 and left Kellie to travel the world. Together they were stationed in British Guiana (now Guyana), Fiji and Sri Lanka. Everard was well-known in his time, and is said to have inspired the novel The Lost World (1912) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Throughout these travels, Hannah found inspiration in her surroundings. An avid botanist, Everard studied the species of orchids that they encountered. Hannah created botanical watercolours of his studies, which now reside at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

An oil painting of a woman and a man sitting on a pale sofa. The woman wears a white dress, and is embroidering a piece of white cloth in her lap. The man wears a dark suit.
John Henry Lorimer, Hannah Cassels Lorimer and Sir Everard im Thurn, 1895 (On loan from a private collection)

Hannah was interested in the people she encountered in these faraway places. She created plaster busts of local people, usually young boys. These busts can be found in collections around the world, including the British Museum. This example is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

A brown bust of a young boy. The boy has his eyes cast down, and has a piece of fabric wrapped across his arms and chest.
Bust of a Sri Lankan boy (© National Trust for Scotland, Kellie Castle)

Although Hannah was on the other side of the globe, she remained involved in the artistic atmosphere at Kellie. A letter from her brother Robert describes the imminent arrival of Phoebe Anna Traquair, who would paint the mural in the Drawing Room. He even included a small sketch to show Hannah how the mural would look.

Hannah and Everard returned to Scotland in 1920 and spent the rest of their lives in East Lothian. An important part of their legacy was a significant collection of objects and lantern slides from their travels. These 250 objects and 500 lantern slides are in the care of National Museums Scotland. The slides have yet to be catalogued, but we can only hope they contain some images of Hannah and Everard on their many travels.

This article is part of the Revealing Scotland’s Women series – read about the missing miniature of Mrs Jean Dempster and the lost taverner of Gladstone’s Land.

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