National Museum exhibition to trace 18th century origins of Scottish tourism

Kilts, bagpipes, lochs and mountains are iconic images which have long been deployed to sell the country to the rest of the world.

Friday, 16th November 2018, 2:02 pm
Updated Friday, 16th November 2018, 2:09 pm
John Knox's created this image of tourists at Loch Katrine in the wake of a surge in visitors after it featured in Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake poem.
John Knox's created this image of tourists at Loch Katrine in the wake of a surge in visitors after it featured in Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake poem.

Now a major new exhibition is to explore how the origins of Scottish tourism date back more than 250 years.

The National Museum of Scotland is to examine the roots of the “romantic and heroic” visions of the country which were created by artists, writers and even monarchs - and how they transformed the way the country was perceived at home and abroad.

Curators say it will challenge long-held perceptions that “fantasy” images of the Highlands were simply invented in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake poem was depicted in this 19th century furnishing fabric.

The exhibition, to be staged next year, will trace the evolution of Scotland’s global image from the crushing defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden to the transformation of Balmoral Castle into a Highland home for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The legacy of the Highland Clearances, the adoption of the kilt as a symbol of status and fashion after a contentious ban was overturned, and the impact of 1822 royal visit of King George to Scotland - the first by a reigning monarch in nearly two centuries - will also be explored in the exhibition.

Due to run from June-November, it will explore the influence writers like Sir Walter Scott, George Byron, James Macpherson, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, the artist John Knox and the bagpiper John Ban Mackenzie had on Scottish culture and tourism.

Musical instruments, paintings, furniture, costumes, weapons and jewellery will be going on display in Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland, the final part of a “trilogy” of exhibitions which have already examined the life of Mary Queen of Scots and the influence of the Jacobites across Europe.

Dr Stuart Allan, keeper of Scottish history at the museum, said the exhibition would explore how the country was “propelled on a journey into the forefront of the global imagination” in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the changes in Scottish national identity that the country went through in the wake of Culloden.

He said: “We will be looking at how the images of a Highlander became a shorthand for Scotland as a whole and how things like tartan, the kilt, bagpipes and a sense of a heroic and tragic history became touchstones for an idea of what Scotland was.

“We will be questioning and examining the whole relationship between romance and reality. We sometimes hear that this way of thinking Scotland is based on a kind of romantic fantasy.

“We will be looking at where these ideas came from and suggesting that the reality is far more complex and compelling than the suggestion that it was some sort of fantastic interpretation.

“Sir Walter Scott is often thought of is being the author of it all, but he was really only part of a process that was well underway, in terms of looking at Scotland’s past and promoting it in a particular way.

“Scott and other historians of a romantic bent were storytellers, but they were also interested in evidence and authenticity. That’s the relationship we will be digging into.”Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of the National Museum, said: “This is the last of three exhibitions where we have revisited eras in Scottish history that people think they know about but have actually looked at the reality behind them.

“It used to be thought that the images of Scotland that tended to be projected around the world were all just invented in the 18th and 19th centuries, when they were based on re-interpretations of traditional culture for particular purposes. You can still see threads of that today in how Scotland is promoted. This exhibition will really look into where that came from.”