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Visions of the Borders

An exhibition of the watercolours of the great Tom Scott RSA. The Scott Gallery, Hawick Museum
Wilton Lodge Park, Hawick

Step back in time to almost 100 years ago and imagine that you are sitting on a wooded slope just above Wiltonburn, Hawick looking ‘up Teviot’. Focus on the valley below and picture the dark, moody keep on the left locally known as Goldielands Tower.

The River Teviot gleams like polished silver in a subdued winter setting where only the fierce ginger bark of a statuesque Scots pine provides colourful relief. Shadowy figures walk on the road below and I wonder if they are members of my family who lived in Goldielands farmhouse when the magnificent watercolour of the valley featuring the tower was painted in 1908.

There is a melancholic stillness in this painting that must have been one of the greatest watercolours painted in Scotland at the turn of last century.

This great work is the centrepiece of an exhibition featuring 33 paintings by the Borders’ favourite artist son, Tom Scott, to be staged at Hawick Museum until 27 March. This exhibition celebrates 150 years since Scott’s birth and it aims to show how skilful this humble but truly masterful painter really was.

Not only did Scott celebrate the beauty and the moodiness of the Borders scenery, but he recorded its ballads and its turbulent history too. He was also a well-known book illustrator and collector of archeological artefacts, many of which are exhibited at the Hawick Museum.

However, landscapes remain his best-loved and most collectable works. He captured the seasons and the moods they created in a very subtle way.

Born in Selkirk in 1854, one of five children, Tom’s father actively discouraged his art, persuading him to follow in his own footsteps as a tailor. Although young Tom showed promise in this training in Edinburgh, he attended evening classes at The Edinburgh School of Art and set a course for his natural vocation as an artist.

He gained a significant mentor in oil and watercolour artist Sam Bough whilst learning to draw and paint at the college. Influenced by the great painters Constable and David Cox, as well as Bough, Scott’s talents saw no bounds. Eventually, his father relented and young Scott was so successful that he was exhibiting at Edinburgh’s Royal Scottish Academy in his early twenties. He was to exhibit 167 works at the RSA during his lifetime and many of these were influenced by his travels in Northern Scotland, France and Italy before he finally settled in his beloved Border country in middle age.

His famous work ‘Return to Hawick from Hornshole, 1514,’ was probably influenced by the Arch of Titus at the entrance to the Roman Forum in the Italian capital. This great painting has been taken from its usual home at Drumlanrig Tower in Hawick to provide yet another great focus for the exhibition. Scott used local people as models for this painting and it is curious that may of the faces in the crowd resemble people who live in the area today. It was seen as a local treasure and prints of this painting were at one time sold for 100 guineas to secure its purchase for the town.

The portrait of Tom Scott by well-known Scottish painter George Fiddes featured at the exhibition is on long term long from the RSA.

Usually a lover of contemporary rather then traditional art, I have to admit to being in complete awe of the works of Tom Scott and urge you to go to see these drawings and paintings even if you’ve never been to an art exhibition. You may be proud to know that we had a ‘Constable in our midst’ and this is what is being celebrated here.

Maggie Elliot

Please note that access to the gallery is by stairway.

*It’s probable that some artistic licence has been used in the setting for this picture.

Thanks to Elizabeth Hume, visual arts officer for SBC, for assistance with this article.

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