Victoria’s Highland Fling: The Scots, the English, and All Those Beautiful Breeds

AKC Gazette, “Times Past”: On September 18, Scots went to the polls to decide the issue of their homeland’s independence from the United Kingdom. The measure was narrowly defeated, and Scotland and England will continue their long, sometimes stormy relationship.

Somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge, Queen Victoria is looking on with approval. A passion for all things Scottish pervaded 19th-century England. It was the time of Sir Walter Scott, who fired the British imagination with his novels that romanticized life on the Highlands. And that most influential of all Brits, Queen Victoria, played a role in popularizing Scotland among the fashionable and affluent.

Victoria first visited Perthshire, Scotland, in 1842. The trip kindled a fascination with the Highlands that would last the rest of the queen’s long life. Thanks to Victoria’s love of the region’s traditions, wildlife, and rugged landscape, the sporting pursuits of Scotland became all the rage among English gentry. Among the artists who immortalized this Scots-mania on canvas was Richard Ansdell (1815–1885). In many ways, he typified the era. Ansdell was an Englishman, from London by way of Liverpool, who fell under the thrall of the Highlands’ austere beauty. “After he had discovered Scotland and had built his own lodge there on the banks of Loch Laggan,” a biographer wrote, “he spent time north of the border whenever he could—painting many Scottish subjects.”

Ansdell poured all he had learned of Scotland’s canine culture into his 1859 painting Highland Tod, Fox Hunter. The picture has been called a visual encyclopedia of the Scottish breeds, and for good reason. The 65-inch-wide canvas depicts the Scottish Deerhound, Gordon Setter, Collie, Border Collie, and Dandie Dinmont, Skye, Cairn, and Aberdeen terriers, along with the Otterhound. This historically important painting usually hangs at AKC headquarters in New York. Until December 14, however, Highland Tod will be part of the The Dog Show: The Art of Our Canine Companions exhibition on view at the Morris Museum, http://www.morrismuseum.org/ in Morris, New Jersey.

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