Published: 26/08/2014 16:43 - Updated: 26/08/2014 17:03

Artist's Highland journey commemorated in print

William Daniell's view of Nairn.
William Daniell's view of Nairn.

SCENES of Highland life two centuries ago are captured between the covers of a new book marking a remarkable artist’s journey around the shores of the Moray Firth.

William Daniell’s Inverness & The Moray Firth is the second book produced by former physics professor John Garvey celebrating both acclaimed artist Daniell and Garvey’s native Highlands.

The first of these, William Daniell’s Isle of Skye and Raasay, looked at Daniell’s travels in the west. Five years on, Garvey now picks up Daniell’s journey on the other side of the Highlands in 1815.

This includes Inverness, which is not just Garvey’s home town, but the place where he had his first introduction to the Georgian artist.

"My interest in Daniell started in 1969 when my wife and I were up here on holiday," Garvey, who now lives in Oxfordshire, revealed.

"MacAvoy’s, the furniture shop on Academy Street, had a full scale Highland soldier at the top of the steps and by his feet was a box with 50 or 60 prints in it. I was thumbing through these prints and I couldn’t believe how fantastic they were."

Garvey bought two, one of Blaven in Skye and the other Edinburgh Castle, but with Daniell prints now selling for some £200 each, now wishes he had bought the lot.

"I thought they were watercolours, but they turned out to be aquatints, which are very different," Garvey said.

"It was important for artists at that time to have their paintings made into prints and they would employ an engraver to make a print of their painting.

Mey Castle.
Mey Castle.

"Daniell’s great plus was that he was an artist and an aquatintist."

Daniell’s prints of the Highlands come from the artist’s decade long project to travel the coast of Britain.

Beginning in 1813 at Land’s End, over the next 11 years he made six separate journeys until he had covered the whole country.

"He would make a sketch of the view in front of him, make notes, and take it back to London and turn it into an aquatint," Garvey said.

"Nobody had produced anything like this before. From his journey, he produced 308 aquatints, but he made many more drawings. On Skye he made 60 drawings, but only produced 15 prints."

Although his prints are in high demand, Daniell himself remains relatively unknown, but Garvey had an amazing piece of luck in his quest to find out more about the artist when he visited the Tate Gallery in London in 1990.

"I asked if there was anyone around who knew anything about William Daniell," he said.

"After that I got a phone call from Iain Bain, who was the director of publications at the Tate. He said to me: ‘You sound a bit Scottish.’ So I told him I came from Inverness. ‘Oh, my forebears come from the Black Isle,’ he said."

Bain had more than just a Highland connection. Led by Bain, the Tate had recently acquired 304 original copper plates of Daniell’s British journey and produced a limited edition book.

"It was an amazing piece of serendipity that I should walk into the Tate and find a person with connections to the Black Isle who was also an authority on Daniell," Garvey said.

After he retired in 2003, Garvey put that information to use by writing his first book about Daniell, but rather than attempt to follow his entire journey around the British coast, he began with his journey through Skye and Raasay.

That book was published in 2009, but still with plenty of material, he began looking at another section of Daniell’s journey, one that took him along the shores of the Moray Firth from Thurso to Banff.

Even 200 years on, some of the scenes captured by Daniell are easily identifiable today.

However, Invernessians will notice one big absence from the image of the Ness on the book’s cover — there is no sign of a castle.

The original castle was blown up by the Jacobites in 1746 and it was 90 years before the present castle was built on the same site.

Inverness might have lacked its most iconic view, but it still impressed Daniell and his contemporaries.

"They can’t praise Inverness highly enough," Garvey said.

Dunrobin Castle.
Dunrobin Castle.

That included Inverness Royal Academy, as former pupil Garvey was happy to point out.

"What I hadn’t realised was how unique it was," he said.

"First of all, it had a Royal Charter, but then there were all the subjects that were taught there: arithmetic, merchant’s accounts, mathematics, navigation, astronomy, chemistry... Daniell was quite impressed and it takes a lot to impress him."

Having recorded two of Daniell’s journeys, Garvey still has much of Scotland and all of England and Wales as potential subjects for future books, but he thinks it is unlikely he will given how much work each book involves.

"The book is a mixture of first art, then travel, then history as well," he said.

"I talk about the Clearances in the chapter on Sutherland because you can’t help but talk about what happened there. The Clearances were in full flow when Daniell was there, but he doesn’t talk about them. He was going at full spate around the country and wasn’t going to be distracted by the condition of the people."

William Daniell’s Inverness & The Moray Firth by John Garvey is published by Matador books priced £20.

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