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Issue 15 - Searching for Shirrapburn

Scotland Magazine Issue 15
July 2004


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Searching for Shirrapburn

One of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland, Shirrapburn Loch.

One of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland, Shirrapburn Loch, a landscape by William Dyce, has for years proved a mystery to art experts who have tried to name the real Scottish location that inspired the scene.

So Helen Smailes, the senior curator of British art at the National Gallery has set herself the mission of identifying the loch in the painting once and for all.

A succession of former curators have failed to pinpoint the exact whereabouts of the loch, with some believing it was Glen Shurrig on the Isle of Arran. But recent research has discounted this, and this has sparked a renewed search. Investigations have homed in on two likely spots; Glen Shira at the head of Loch Fyne, north-east of Inveraray; and Glen Shira near Badenoch.

“There aren’t too many clues,” says Smailes. “There is obviously the topography of the mountains and from what we know of Dyce he is unlikely to have taken too many liberties. The only other clue is the sailing boat in the picture, which may suggest it is a sea loch.”

Smailes says finding the location of the painting “will add two or three noughts to the value of the painting. If you can say this is a view of lencoe or the Cairngorms, for example, it is going to be worth significantly more than if known as simply another anonymous Scottish Highland landscape.”

Dyce’s Shirrapburn Loch is on display at the Fleming Collection in London until 4th September.

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