The Hunterian is delighted to present a guest post written by Dr Patricia R. Andrew, the leading authority on Jacob More’s life and work, as part of its celebrations around the addition of a new painting to its collections, Neidpath Castle. The picture was acquired in the autumn of 2020 with the help of the Art Fund and the National Fund for Acquisitions. It is the first work by Jacob More to enter The Hunterian collections.
Jacob More (1740-1793) Neidpath Castle, 1770, oil on canvas.
Beginnings in Edinburgh
The landscape painter Jacob More enjoyed a really varied career. Trained in Edinburgh, he was first apprenticed to a goldsmith, then to the Norie family of decorative house-painters, after which he worked with the artist Alexander Runciman (1736–1785). Then in 1769 he designed and painted theatre stage-sets in Edinburgh for the first productions after the legalizing of the theatre in Scotland.
Views of Scotland
In the late 1760s More sketched widely in lowland Scotland. Surviving drawings include Edinburgh views such as Arthur’s Seat and the botanic gardens (then on Leith Walk), and Craigmillar and Roslin Castles. Travelling east, he recorded views in Dunbar, and to the north, Stirling and Brig o’Turk. Then, looking to the west, he sketched the three great Falls of Clyde, Dumbarton and Loch Lomond. This early Scottish period culminated in a series of important landscape oil paintings, one of which is Neidpath Castle.
More painted several Scottish castles. But interestingly, although Neidpath Castle, near Peebles, is situated dramatically above the river Tweed, More does not show much detail of its structure. Its presence in the background is important, however, for More is setting the scene for his painting of the landscape. Any viewer of his day would know about this Castle, steeped in history and situated on one of Scotland’s major rivers.
The Castle was begun in the twelfth century, probably the earliest and certainly one of the grandest of the Scottish Border tower houses. it had played host to many illustrious visitors, such as Mary Queen of Scots in 1563, and her son James VI in 1587. It was remodelled in the 1660s after being attacked by Oliver Cromwell’s forces – though by More’s time parts of it were ruinous.
The countryside around is quite the opposite. It is verdant with trees and grass, and the river is clean, fast-flowing and abundant in fish. What most interests More is the light and colour, with fast-moving clouds enabling him to show light and dark areas of landscape. The distant Castle thus stands out as a silhouette, while the trees are painted with swift, deft brushstrokes which themselves show the movement of the painter’s brush. The three figures demonstrate that this is a peopled and prosperous landscape, yet the river takes centre stage, leading our eyes up to the Castle and to the hills beyond.
This modestly-sized oil painting is one of a group of works produced by More which are important historically as well as artistically, as they represent the first significant, imaginative artistic interpretations of the Scottish landscape. Until then, depictions were essentially topographical in character, recording the factual lie of the land rather than interpreting its character and ambience.
In 1771 More went to London and exhibited six paintings, including a set of the Falls of Clyde (illustrated here by A View of Corehouse Linn, on the River Clyde near Lanark, 1771, oil on canvas, © National Galleries of Scotland, one of the paintings to be featured in the online exhibition titled Old Ways New Roads: Travels in Scotland 1720-1832). With these he established his reputation, earning the personal encouragement of Sir Joshua Reynolds. His work paved the way for more prolific Scottish landscape artists such as Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840).
More’s later career
More spent a couple of years in London, studying under the landscape painter Richard Wilson (1712/3-1782) and working as a scene-painter. He then left for Rome, becoming the leading landscape painter in the thriving colony of British artists in the city. He produced large Italianate views with vast, brilliantly-lit skies – theatrical pieces to be viewed from a distance, such as a pair now in Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, Morning and Evening (1785). His waterfall scenes and volcanic eruptions are equally colourful, for example his Mount Vesuvius in Eruption: the Last Days of Pompeii (1780), now in the National Gallery of Scotland. He enjoyed international acclaim as ‘More of Rome’, and in 1784 was invited to present his Self-Portrait to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It is still hanging there today, in the ‘Vasari corridor’, home to a celebrated collection of artists’ self-portraits.
Despite this, he continued to sketch on trips up and down Italy, from the Apennines to Naples. In the 1770s and 1780s he worked in Rome with the Edinburgh painter Allan Ramsay, preparing illustrations for Ramsay’s archaeological treatise on Horace’s Sabine Villa. And in 1785 he was commissioned by Prince Borghese to design and create an ‘English landscape’ garden in Rome’s Villa Borghese, much of which survives today.
He intended to return to Britain, and exhibited his work regularly in London in preparation for a later British career. But he died suddenly in Rome, and is buried in the Protestant Cemetery, where you can still visit his grave.
And Neidpath Castle?
The Castle has continued to hold an important place in Scottish cultural history. In 1803 William Wordsworth visited with his sister Dorothy. She wrote of walking along the river, with ‘the Tweed murmuring through the unfenced green pastures spotted with sheep…an harmonious scene’. Her brother composed a sonnet that would chime with conservationists today, lamenting the recent clearance of a ‘brotherhood of venerable trees’ around the Castle itself, a poem which was admired by Walter Scott.
In 1810 the Castle was inherited by the Earl of Wemyss, and it belongs to the Wemyss family today (Neidpath is a courtesy title of the Earldom). In recent years it has featured in films, and hosts events and private visits.
Take a look online at a few of More’s other paintings
Most of his oil paintings held by UK public galleries are shown on the Art UK website – https://artuk.org
A number of sketches, as well as three oil paintings, are shown on the ‘Art & Artists’ section of the National Galleries of Scotland website – https://nationalgalleries.org
A selection of his oils, including his self-portrait, are on the Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/
And you can learn more about Neidpath Castle here: https://www.neidpathcastle.com
General and reference publications by Patricia R. Andrew
Entries on Jacob More in:
The Grove Dictionary of Art (1996)
A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800, ed. Brinsley Ford, John Ingamells et al (1997)
‘Jacob More: Biography and a Checklist of Works’, Walpole Society, LV (1993), pp. 105-196 [this checklist is now much updated in the author’s personal archive].
Specific areas of More’s oeuvre, in date order:
‘An English Garden in Rome’, Country Life, CLXIX, no. 4366, 23 April 1981, pp. 1136-8 [Jacob More’s creation of the English landscape garden in Villa Borghese, Rome, in the 1780s].
‘Jacob More and the Earl-Bishop of Derry’, Apollo, CXXIV, no. 294, August 1986, pp.88-94 [Jacob More and his chief patron in Italy].
‘The Watercolours of Jacob More’, Old Watercolour Society Annual Volume, 61, 1986, pp. 27-41.
‘Jacob More’s Falls of Clyde paintings’, The Burlington Magazine, CXXIX, no. 1007, February 1987, pp. 84 [an account of artists, and visitors to the Falls, to c.1830].
‘Rival portraiture: Jacob More, the Roman Academician’, Apollo, CXXX, no. 333, November 1989, 304-307, pp.88-94 [British artists in Rome and the Accademia di San Luca, 1760s-1790s].
‘Illustrating Horace’s Villa: Allan Ramsay, Jacob More and Jakob Philipp Hackert’, and ‘Catalogue: Illustrative Works Relating to Ramsay’s Search for Horace’s Villa’, two chapters in Allan Ramsay and the Search for Horace’s Villa, ed. Bernard D. Frischer & Iain Gordon Brown(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), pp. 51-71 & 157-169.
‘Jacob More e Villa Borghese’, for catalogue to exhibition, Villa Poniatowski, Rome, Villa Borghese: I principi, le arti, la città dal Settecento all’Ottocento (Milan: Skira/Comune di Roma, 2003).
‘Jacob More (1740-1793)’, Newsletter of the Friends of the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome, 21 (2012), p.6.