I had been looking forward to visiting the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre in Portree, which is part of the Highland Archive Service, and it did not disappoint.  Having spoken to Catherine MacPhee, the Archivist at Portree, I was keen to see the work of 17th century artist William Daniell (1769-1837), the watercolours of David L Roberts (1931-1997) and the photographic work of Duncan MacPherson (1882-1966).  In addition, I was introduced to the beautiful etchings of Freddy Theys (b 1937).

My interest is to research the historical visual representation of Skye, that will form a small section in my thesis, and these artists along with the Matthew Stobie (1758-1807) maps I saw at the Museum of the Isles, Library and Archive https://www.wildreflections.photography/uncategorised/museum-of-the-isles-library-and-archive provide me with a solid base from which to draw a pictorial history from the 1750s onwards.  I will need to do more research to fill in the gaps and work on 20th century artists and beyond to bring my work up to date.

The regulations around displaying works of art on my blog are complex and whilst some of the work is available under Creative Commons, I intend to use links to public websites to show you some of the work I viewed either in person or on-line.  Please do follow the links as they are all beautiful and historically very interesting.

The painting that drew me to the work of William Daniell, was a colour painting of Loch Slapin featuring the Black Cuillin ridge.  And while, Daniell’s work is often considered fantasy, the scene bears a significant resemblance to the topographic features of the scene today.

The Coolin, taken from Loch Slapin

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/daniell-the-coolin-taken-from-loch-slapin-t02834

Other Daniell images held by the Tate include some of the iconic landscapes of Skye and I have picked out a few close to my home in South Skye.  First an image deep in the heart of the Cuillin:

Loch Scavig, Skye

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/daniell-loch-scavig-skye-t02832

A print that I saw in Portree is a scene near Broadford:

Liveras, near Broadford, Skye

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/daniell-liveras-near-broadford-skye-t02825

And finally, a favourite of mine, inspired by a view near Talisker:

Little Brieshmeal, near Talisker, Skye

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/daniell-little-brieshmeal-near-talisker-skye-t02831

These prints form part of the work for a topographical publication, entitled A Voyage Round Great Britain.  The work includes 308 aquatints engraved by Daniell (with the original pencil drawings being made on location) and coloured through the William Timms agency.  Whilst Daniell visited Skye a number of times, between 1813 and 1823, he spent more time time working in other locations across Great Britain, starting and finishing his journeys at Lands End.   The Tate holds 306 surviving plates with other holdings like Skye and Lochalsh Archive, Portree having some framed examples of Daniell’s work.

After spending some time with Daniell’s beautiful work, I moved on to the photographs of Duncan McPherson who ran the pharmacy in Kyle (just on the mainland) from 1912 and spent much of his time photographing Skye and Lochalsh and parts of the Highlands.  His black and white image were published in a number of books and some of the archive records have notes to this effect and also give information as to the location of where the photographs taken.  Here is an example:

Archive Record for an image by Duncan MacPherson (1882-1996) held by Skye and Lochalsh Archive, Portree

The collection includes not only his photography but also personal and commercial papers.

The next set of prints that I looked at were a surprise and revelation.  Bringing my historical record of the visual representation of Skye up to date, I viewed the work of Belgium artist Freddy Theys, a frequent visitor to Skye.  His beautiful prints produced by copper engraving into a metal plate, cover the whole of Skye.  I was very interested in a detailed print Cill Chriosd, Isle of Skye, which I believe is an image of the ruined church at Kilchrist close to Loch Cill Chriosd where I do much of my photographic work.

Cill Chriosd, Isle of Skye 22/70 – Freddy Theys – reproduced by kind permission of the Skye and Lochalsh Archive, Portree

However, having said this, there are some stunning images of key landmarks across Skye too.

The Storr from Loch Fada, Isle of Skye 17/70 – Freddy Theys –  reproduced by kind permission of the Skye and Lochalsh Archive, Portree

Portree Loch, Isle of Skye 36/45 – Freddy Theys – reproduced by kind permission of the Skye and Lochalsh Archive, Portree

Talisker Bay, Isle of Skye 1/70 – Freddy Theys – reproduced by kind permission of the Skye and Lochalsh Archive, Portree

And finally, I browsed through Portree’s collection of David L Roberts’ watercolours of the castles of Skye.  The first of Caistel Maol at Kyleakin.  Roberts’ works are reconstructions of how Skye, and the castles he features, might have looked in the 1600s and other later historical periods.  Castle Maol was the home of the Mackinnons of Strathaird and the wife of the Mackinnon chief, Saucy Mary, is said to be buried at the top of Beinn na Caillaich in Broadford.  His historical reconstructions as paintings, were informed by his background in architectural studies, and based on surviving ruins of the castles, along with antiquarian illustrations and a degree of educated supposition!

Caistel Maol

https://www.ambaile.org.uk/asset/13203/

Although, not on Skye I also like the depiction of Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie with the swirling seas around the castle walls.  This depiction is intended to be of the castle in the 17th century and created in 1995:

Eilean Donan Castle

https://www.ambaile.org.uk/search/?searchQuery=David+L+Roberts

And perhaps my favourite of these watercolours and the most sinister of the images featuring Caistel Uisdean around 1620:

Caistel Uisdean

https://www.ambaile.org.uk/search/?searchQuery=David+L+Roberts

Hugh’s Castle is located a few miles north of Portree, guarding the entrance to Loch Snizort Beag.  In the 2020s, Caistel Uisdean is a monument to Uisdean MacGhilleasbuig Chlerich, nephew of a MacDonald Chief, whose reputation was as a murderer and pirate with a penchant for violence and treachery.  For me, this painting gives a sense of the time that Roberts’ is trying to portray, rather than other images that simply recreate what the castle might have looked like in a particular historical period.

I am enjoying returning to my roots of studying History at first-degree level.  I love seeing and being able to handle historical artefacts and piecing together a tiny piece of history.  With the stunning scenery on Skye, it is particularly enjoyable to see how others, over the centuries have chosen to depict the Island and its landscape.

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Skip to content