Glen Finglas and a Victorian Scandal

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Glen Finglas (or Finlas), lies north of Brig o’ Turk, on the main road into the heart of the Trossachs. In 1853 it was the setting for a scandal that shocked the British art establishment and uptight Victorian society in general. At its heart is a significant painting that was intended to be ground-breaking.

It all came about when the critic John Ruskin sprang to the defence of a small group of painters who had called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They believed that the imitation of nature was the highest form of art and disliked what they saw as the influence of the artificial, mannered style and the classical poses characterised by the work of earlier European artists such the Renaissance painter Raphael.

The upshot was various dialogues between the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais and John Ruskin. Millais was encouraged to create a great work with both wild scenery and a portrait as its subject – a painting that would revolutionise British landscape painting and portraiture at one and the same time. Ruskin was later to say that ‘mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery’.  At the same time, he himself would feature in the portrait!

At the time of this artistic debate, Scotland and the Trossachs in particular were very fashionable – thanks to Sir Walter Scott, one of Ruskin’s favourite authors. Ruskin was also a champion of the painter JMW Turner, especially his paintings of Swiss mountain scenes. It was decided that Millais would accompany Ruskin and his Scottish wife Effie Gray to the Highlands in the summer of 1853. Ruskin would be painted amid Nature’s wild grandeur.