The landscape of clearance : changing rural life in nineteenth-century Scottish painting
This thesis explores the incidence and import of imagery surrounding the Highland Clearances in nineteenth-century Scottish painting. It recognises that the Clearances comprised a wide range of responses to the changing economic, agricultural, and social currents that shaped Highland landscape and life throughout the late-eighteenth and well into the nineteenth-century and consequently includes paintings that extend Clearance imagery beyond the most commonly reproduced works of the era. In the Introduction to the thesis, I present the subject of the Clearances and establish the common coincidence of landscape imagery, in both painting and travel writing, that extols the Highland landscape while simultaneously recognising the vast social, economic, and environmental changes effected by the resettlements, evictions, and emigrations of the Clearance era. Chapter II offers a concise outline of the major events of the Clearance era, from about1750 through the later decades of the nineteenth century, and complements the historical details with an investigation of the existing literature on both Clearance subjects and Scottish art history. Chapter III presents an initial foray into the theme of rural distress through the early-nineteenth-century paintings of Sir David Wilkie. His works, like The Rent Day and Distraining for Rent, emerging against a backdrop of increasing countryside dispossession and, through their wide distribution as prints and within the theatre, served as emotive images depicting the plight of the rural poor, in both England and Scotland. In Chapter IV, I investigate the subject of rural labour in the paintings of the Clearance-era, arguing that a wider interpretation of the Clearance must include depictions of the changing types of employment that swept the Highlands throughout the nineteenth century. The theme of Highland emigration constitutes the main topic of Chapter V. Chapter VI explores landscape paintings and further reinforces the centrality of the Highland landscape in expressing the course and after-effects of the Clearances. The thesis closes with the conclusion that, due to the close linkage between the Clearances and the Highland landscape and to the simultaneous growth in the popularity of the area as a subject for artists, tourists, and writers, the visual imagery of the Clearance extends beyond the art of emigration and therefore also includes paintings of rural labour and landscape. This marks an approach to nineteenth-century Scottish painting that validates the works’ significance amidst the wider scope of Victorian art and that establishes their import as depictions of the course of Clearance history within the Highland landscape.