Scottish Sketchbooks: the Victorian Amateur Artist

Double-page watercolour from Bel Balfour's sketchbook dated 1881.

Double-page watercolour from Bel Balfour's sketchbook dated 1881.

Nothing gives me more pleasure than finding complete 19th century sketchbooks, no matter how fine the artwork is. Drawing was a serious business for many travellers in the Victorian era, and their record is the equivalent of today's photograph album. I have already posted a page on Richenda Buxton's fine set, and I propose to display more sets on other pages on this website. 

I shall post two on this page: Bel Balfour's 1881 collection, but firat, one in pencil from 1891, by 'WH' - or is it 'HW'?

It is a very small book, measuring some 12.5cms x 8.5cms, and most of the sketches are of the south of Scotland. But two look as if they might be of the far north:

It is indistinctly titled on the back:

I have shown this image to my friend Chris McNeill who knows Scotland as well as anyone, having walked over much of it, and he agrees that it might be the Assynt landscape with Suilven in the distance, Stac Pollaidh in the middle and Ben More Coigach on the right, though it doesn't fit exactly what he knows of the views up there. 

There is another sketch of the distant mountain, with sea in the foreground. Again, it is indistinctly titled on the back:

If anyone has a better idea as to what is depicted, I would be delighted to hear from them ( I should add that Mr Bangor-Jones from Lochinver has contacted me to say that he is not convinced that these two sketches are of Suilven etc.

These are the other sketches in the collection:

"Coldingham Shore from the Harbour. 8/91"
"St David's Castle, Coldingham Shore, 8/91"
"Coldingham Shore from Haigh(?), 8/91."
"West End of 'String', Arran.12/81(?)"
Indistinctly titled on the back.
"Gairlochead from ?"
"Forth from Corstorphine Hill [Edinburgh]"
"Edinbro from Corstorphine Hill."
"Loch Lomond...looking north."

I was able to obtain a second sketchbook by this artist, 'WH'. Some of the contents of this second album were mountain views of the Alps, but a few were again of Scotland. I add them below for completeness sake, though they are all southern rather than northern Scotland. The artist's penwork is beautifully precise. He bought both albums in Edinburgh, from Alfred Nelson in Hanover Street.

"Inchtavannoch, Luss 18.iv.93" one of the islands on Loch Lomond
"Loch Lomond from Tor h?[torn]".
"Inch Lonaig, Loch Lomond. 20.iv.93".
"The Cobbler, Tarbet. Loch Lomond. 20.iv.93".
"Luss Straits, 22.iv.93".
"Cramond Island, 27.v.93".
"Edinburgh from Aberdour, June 27th.93".
Untitled Abbey ruins.

At the back, the artist allows himself two rather frivolous caricature sketches:

"She (hearing movement), 'Don't you dare splash me, Jack!' "

No caption. The pencilled head above is probably by a later hand.

No caption. The pencilled head above is probably by a later hand.

And as a bonus, I finish WH's collection with this lovely little watercolour sketch of Sunrise on Mont Blanc, dated 7.93:

Bel Balfour's sketchbook is a little larger, approx. 18cms x 13cms. It was purchased from George Squire, 314 Oxford Street - a London purchase, so possibly the artist lived in England though Balfour is a good Scottish name. What is for sure is that Bel (I imagine she is a female) travelled up to the far north, for many of the sketches ar of the Torridon district, and the first is titled 'Ben Aye': presumably Ben Eighe, with Loch Clair in the foreground:

The inside of the cover reveals that she was residing there in September 1881, staying at Coulin Lodge.  The Coulin Estate is south-west of Kinlochewe and Loch Maree, and she would not have had to go very far to get this view of Ben Eighe. If her paintings reflect accurately the weather conditions of the time, she must have enjoyed a wonderful 'Indian Summer', for the images offer bright blue skies and water throughout. One photo is dated 1882 so I suspect this is the record of more than one visit to Scotland.

She depicts landscape, with barely any human evidence at all; just the occasional house. There are one or two pencil drawings, with the colours noted, so I don't know if they were added later in all cases. There is evidence of pencil on some of the paintings, and gouache highlighting is applied, but not liberally:

Neither of these images is titled.

Neither of these images is titled.

Another double-page image shows Ben Vuillien (Fionn Bheine?) from Achnasheen:

These are some of the other images in the album:

"25 Sept. 1881. Sunday."
"Loch Quoich" (SW of Fort Augustus).
Left-hand image "Seal Rock & Mull, Loch Linnhe." Right-hand: "from the Garden"
Titled "Sept. 12th"
"From Briellento(?) Garden, Sept. 13th"
"Seal Rocks, Sept. 14"
Left-hand image "Loch Sel(??)", Right-hand untitled.
"Caledonian Canal".
"Loch Aber".
"Cona Glen."

Please contact me if you think I have mis-named any of these views, or can identify some of the untitled ones (