'This is Landseer’s masterpiece'

The Monarch of the Glen, 1851, oil on canvas, Sir Edwin Landseer (1803–73), private collection. Bridgeman Images.

Sir Jackie Stewart says:
‘My grandfather was a gamekeeper, and, from 15 to 21, I worked with a wonderful stalker, Duncan Macbeth, culling stags and hinds on Sir Ivor Colquhoun’s estate above Loch Lomond, so I have a great affinity with deer. This is Landseer’s masterpiece; it epitomises the majesty and, above all, the dignity and style of this most noble of beasts’

Sir Jackie Stewart shot for Britain before turning to motor racing. He won the Formula 1 World Championship three times, and ran Stewart Grand Prix and Jaguar Racing. He is vice-president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club.

Art critic John McEwen comments:
‘Edwin Landseer also loved deer stalking, and greatly respected his quarry. ‘A creature always picturesque and never ungraceful is too great a property to sacrifice to common feelings of humanity,’ he wrote in 1837. The deer pictures were his artistic apogee. In them, he strove to raise animal painting, academically considered an inferior genre, to high art. ‘He humanises his animals; he has philosophic, moral, and sentimental ends in view,’ enthused  the eminent French critic Hippolite Taine (1828–93).

The Monarch, his most famous picture, appropriately shows a ‘royal’, a regal 12-pointer, surveying the sort of immemorial Highland fastness that fills the young with dreams of greatness and the old with gloomy reflections on the tragic brevity of life. Landseer, who was artistically acclaimed and ‘acknowledged to be the best company of his day’, was nonetheless aware of the darker side, having suffered a nervous breakdown in 1840. That the picture was intended for the House of Lords shows how it chimed with the lofty ideals of the new Victorian age. It now belongs to John Dewar & Sons, and is synonymous with the amber nectar.

The outcrop, identical to one in Glen Quoich, is still called ‘Landseer’s rocks’. The deer paintings proclaimed the world’s romance with Scotland, ignited by Walter Scott and crowned by the Queen and Consort. All were Landseer’s friends and patrons. His reputation suffered a posthumous slump, but, today, we recognize why he is buried in St Paul’s and was praised by Gericault.’

This article was first published in Country Life, August 12, 2009