22nd to 25th November
In the attractive catalogue for Lost Castles, the introduction relates how Karel van Mander’s Schilderboeck (Book of Painters), published 1604, was a most influential work for 17th century Dutch painters, featuring a poem by P C Ketel on the art of landscape painting.
Take charcoal and chalk, pen, ink, paper, and draw what you see. If you stand a little further off, the effect of the scene will be found to be more pleasing Draw everything in nature, forests, mountains… Draw whatever interests your eye… towns, castles, peasants’ cottages…
This historic advice has inspired Nichol Wheatley to draw in the landscape; fascinated by castles, he set off to find well-known ancient ruins and forgotten, hidden gems around Scotland.
The exhibition of thirty-four oil on canvas paintings – vividly colourful or dramatically moody, large scale and small studies – are well presented and neatly labelled around the walls and columns of the spacious Dundas Street Gallery. Browse around to take a journey from Ayrshire to Mull, North Berwick to Argyll, the Highlands to the Outer Hebrides.
High up on a clifftop, the ancient ruins of Urquhart Castle stands on the north shoreline of Loch Ness. This is a spectacular image with a broad sweep of indigo sky with a glimpse of the tall tower and battlements overlooking the deep blue loch. (No monsters in sight!)
Tantallon Castle is perched on the edge of the East Lothian coastline, just outside North Berwick. The view is a rugged silhouette from across the bay, surrounded by rocky seashore and sandy beach under a hazy pink sky.
Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle in 1567 for almost a year, trapped in this remote island fortress before she managed to escape. The cream-stone tower is placed in the centre of the painting, beneath amber tinted clouds with a subtle shaft of moonlight glistening over the loch.
From factual history to a legendary tale – a totally ‘Lost Castle’ is The Castle of the Red-haired Maiden on a small forested islet on Loch Avich, Argyll. The story goes that the Lord of the castle had a beautiful red-haired daughter who had planned to elope with a neighbouring chieftain. Her furious father threw her from the battlements, while her distraught lover took revenge and stabbed him in the heart.
Almost hidden in the hilltop woodland is Kinnoull Tower, the 19th century folly is just visible in the cloak of night-time, just a pinpoint of a buttermilk-yellow moon casting a gentle glow on the curving twists of the River Tay.
For over 700 years, Duart Castle, the seat of Clan Maclean, has dominated the view over the Sound of Mull and Loch Linnhe with its huge curtain of walls and solid Keep. Wheatley has created a dramatic atmosphere observing the Castle from across the Sound, the dark shape looming out of the shadows with threatening rain clouds overhead.
There is a real filmic quality to all these, and many other, mystical, majestic scenes focussing on distant Castles captured by day, dusk, sunset and moonrise with shimmering shades of glowing light.
With such panoramic, painterly views, it is best to stand back to see the full perspective of the expanse of sky, lochs, sea, trees, fields and hills all around. Nichol Wheatley clearly achieves the fine art of landscape as described by the poet P C Ketel to inspire Dutch artists over four hundred years ago.
As well as these oil paintings, a Lost Castles Portfolio of Prints is available – a limited edition of 10 sets of six prints, signed and stamped.
Dundas Street Gallery,
6 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3
With thanks to Vivien Devlin, author of this review.