‘Wallace Mounument, Stirling’. Mixed media on 10×10″ wood panel. Rose Strang, May 2018
Today’s painting (above) is a private commission for a friend. It’s of the Wallace monument in Stirling.
Gus recently got in touch to ask if I’d paint the Wallace Monument for his mum, who grew up next to the Wallace Monument. His mum isn’t well just now and I was very touched and honoured to be asked.
I decided to paint a view with the Ochil hills in the background, with the sun coming out after a rain storm; I hope that’s how it looks!
Here’s a close-up of the tower, I’ve made it fairly impressionistic rather than detailed – the way it appears at a distance in sunlight ..
The tower in real life is quite beautiful – (images easily findable online) made of warm yellow sandstone which catches the light in the late afternoon and at sunset. It sits on the Abbey Craig; a quartz-dolerite intrusion that was harder-wearing than the surrounding landscape, so took its current shape after the glaciers retreated about 14 thousand years ago.
The Abbey Craig was also the site of Wiliam Wallace’s HQ during the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, and the tower is a fitting tribute to this fairly monumental human being! He was apparently 6 foot 7 inches with a broad-boned warrior’s build. The sword he used in battle was at least five feet (though that would have been for an initial charge towards cavalry apparently).
The tower was built in 1869 and is characteristically Victorian and ornate in style, though inspired by Medieval era buildings. The top represents a crown and, to my eye, if you see just the tip of this emerging from the surrounding foliage, it looks strangely similar to Hindu temples from thousands of years ago.
Pretty much everyone has seen Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, so most of you will have picked up the general gist of the story, and myths! If you read this blog you’ll know I’m always curious about the history of painting subjects, so if you’re interested, read on for a brief outline about William Wallace …
Early depiction believed to be a likeness of Wallace
A few hundred years after William Wallace died, a writer called Blind Harry wrote a history of Wallace, much of which is deemed to be fantasy, but nonetheless the facts are there, as attested by official records of the time …
Following the untimely death of King Alexander III of Scotland, whose only heir was his three-year-old granddaughter, Scotland was in disarray and King Edward I of England was brought in to help arbitrate. You do have to wonder why anyone was surprised when he took full advantage of the situation, since he was renowned as a pretty unpleasant character to say the least – he decided to appoint himself Lord Paramount of Scotland.
Skirmishes broke out against the English occupation, and support for the cause grew as tactics of the occupation grew more brutal. The first proper battle, led by Wallace, defeated Edward’s army at Stirling Bridge.
After this victory Wallace was appointed guardian of Scotland, but the next battle was lost. He attempted to rally support from the French but was later caught then tortured and killed for treason (pretty much exactly as depicted in Braveheart except that he was also dragged through the streets behind a horse for five miles before the execution). After this, Scotland appeared to be defeated, but covert plans were being made as Robert the Bruce succeeded Wallace as Guardian of Scotland, Robert the Bruce then went on to win against the English in the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and after the 1300’s Scotland remained entirely independent up until the treaty of Union in 1707.
It would be nice to know more about the character of Wallace, but there’s only speculation and few hard facts. Suffice to say he was clearly a born leader – he wasn’t from nobility but was probably educated and trained as a warrior, he was also clever, as attested by battle strategies, and extremely determined. The decision to build a monument to Wallace came at a time of resurgence of interest in Scotland’s national identity, following the near decimation of Highland culture following the Highland clearances.
Thanks again to Gus Carmichael for commissioning this painting, it’s been a pleasure to paint and an honour to be asked!