Love it Deerly: Sir Edwin Landseer – “The Man and the Monarch”

"The Monarch of the Glen" Sir Edwin Landseer (1851)

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Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh, The Caledonian.  Princes Street, Edinburgh

Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) is synonymous with the powerful depiction of animals, from Queen Victoria’s hounds and horses to lions and polar bears. However, more than any other animal, the Highland red deer is most associated with his art, notably ‘The Monarch of the Glen’, painted in 1851.  This majestic portrayal of a royal stag against the moody backdrop of misty mountain peaks led to numerous reproductions and, later, used for branding Scottish products, from whisky to shortbread, spreading the iconic image worldwide.

Having been on loan for seventeen years to the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, in 2016 the owners Diageo, decided to put the painting up for auction through Christie’s. Following an urgent appeal to save the Monarch for the nation, Diageo agreed a partnership deal offering a £4 million purchase price. Financial support came from Heritage Lottery Fund, Art Fund, Scottish Government and a fundraising campaign (#loveitdeerly), with donations from around the world.  On 17 March 2017, it was announced that Landseer’s famous Deer was now in public ownership to remain in the permanent collection at the National Gallery of Scotland.

To celebrate this achievement, an exhibition entitled “The Man and the Monarch” is on display throughout April at the Peacock Alley, at the Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh, The Caledonian. Curated by Artiq, the Art Consultancy firm, it’s a selection of prints, photographs and portraits with works by Landseer and contemporary artists.

A stunning photograph is “White Stag” by Kristian Bell; perhaps snapped at dusk, the pure white of its coat illuminates the darkness of surrounding bushes.  As she explains “I had heard a few rumours of a white stag hanging around the Arne RSPB in Dorset so was pretty pleased when we came across two white stags and this was the closest I could get.

Alma Haser specializes in carefully re-constructed portraits using a paper-folding technique which distorts the face, Picasso-esque style. “ThistleFace” shows a man’s face obscured by the flower of Scotland, its sharp leaves and purple tone, it reflects the blocked mind and dark thoughts which Landseer suffered through depression.

To complement a print of  “The Monarch of the Glen”  there is also his “Scene in Braemar – Highland Deer”.  In 1888, Christie’s sold this Landseer work for 4,950 guineas to Sir Edward Cecil Guinness, remaining in the family until sold to a private buyer a century later. The dramatic painting depicts a Red Stag, surrounded by young deer, a hare and an eagle soaring above against menacing grey storm clouds.  Here too are photographs and prints to illustrate Landseer’s life and work, his association with Queen Victoria and the Lion model project for Trafalgar Square.

Within the former Caledonian Station concourse, the Peacock Alley is an elegant Salon for afternoon tea or coupe of champagne. The Bartender has invented a special “Monarch” Whisky cocktail, the perfect tipple as you browse around this fascinating and imaginative exhibition.

P.S.  After visiting the Waldorf Astoria, do take a walk along to the National Gallery to see Landseer’s painting,  “The Monarch of the Glen,”  now thankfully saved for the Nation.

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