“The John Knox House on Royal Mile” | Painting circa 1840-60
A FINELY DETAILED PAINTING OF THE JOHN KNOX HOUSE
Scotland, probably circa 1840-60, oil on canvas, unsigned
Item # 806KMB06
This iconic house situated in the heart of Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile on High Street was built in 1470, making this and the adjacent structure (Moubray House) the only surviving Medieval buildings along the Royal Mile. It is incredibly well detailed, the structure and adjacent buildings still almost identical in form today. Though John Knox may never actually have lived in the house, his association with it is argued to have saved the building from demolition in the 1840s and this painting was probably painted prior to undergoing renovations in the 1850s. A picture of this house in nearly identical facade and condition was taken by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson in 1846 (National Galleries Scotland, acc. no. PGP R 169.118). Interestingly, though we cannot conclusively attribute the work to David Octavius Hill, it is quite apparent that his photograph was the source material for the painting with perfect adherence to angular perspective, identical rendering of all building facades and even the placement of the the horse-drawn carraige in the same spot the photograph shows a (now faded) horse-drawn carriage. David Octavius Hill R.S.A was an avid painter and his relatively few scenes are rich and full of Scottish history. He leveraged his partnership with Robert Adamson to efficiently capture subjects by camera for later painting, as was done in his collection of painted portraits of Scottish clergy. It is difficult to say authoritatively that the painting is by Hill, as it is unsigned and relined. But it is a worthy topic for further research, as there would be significant evidence that this is in fact one of his works - as an artist focused on both the pastoral and architectural scenes, as well as his interior paintings of figures and portraiture, Hill painted a landscape view of the Royal Mile from an entirely different perspective than the present work. The present scene is so robust and full of activity; a pair of men dragging away a third man, women mill about around the well situated directly in front of the house, and crowds throng about the packed dirt street while a beggar stands on crutches before a generous giver. The Knox House structure remains to this day, though it has been completely restored and the stone exposed. The work has been beautifully conserved: cleaned, restored, relined and housed in a new frame - the result is a piece that is preserved for generations to come, capturing a moment in rare time of this street and the life surrounding it.
This is a rare and exceptional scene of significance for anyone passionate about Scottish history.
Measurements: 46 1/2” W x 37” H x 4” D [frame]; 36” W x 27” H [canvas]
Craquelure throughout. Cleaned in the last decade. Contemporary frame with minor wear. Repairs visible under UV, see close up images below for details. Small loss to upper right corner, small scratch to right side by the frame.