White Cottage, Where?

At the end of last year, we received an intriguing email about the location depicted in one of Barns-Graham’s early oil paintings. Catalogued as White Cottage, Carbeth, a reference her paternal family’s estate, could this painting instead have been inspired by a holiday to Kintyre?

an oil painting of a white cottage with a body of water and boat behind and a hill in the far distance

White Cottage, c. 1935, oil on canvas, BGT1118

The painting in question is an expressive landscape with a white cottage set on the edge of a body of water and mountainous terrain beyond. Probably created whilst at Edinburgh Collage of Art, the approach is reminiscent of that taught by her tutor, William Gillies, who greatly influenced her early style of painting. Up until now, the location of the scene had been assumed to be Carbeth Loch. Well known as a swimming pond, or to those familiar with the Carbeth Hutting Community or walkers of the West Highland Way, Carbeth Loch sat within the estate of Barns-Graham’s paternal family home, Carbeth House, near Blanefield.

a black and white photograph of a group of 4 people and a black dog standing on a path leading to a white cottage

Port na Sgadan. Image courtesy of Christine Ritchie

The Case for Carradale

In the email, Christine Ritchie identified the location of the painting ‘a house called Port na Sgadan at Torrisdale, near Carradale, Kintyre’ and sent an accompanying image (above). This isolated home, whose name means Port of Herring, belonged to Christine’s ancestors in the mid-19th century. Some further photos of the surrounding location followed from Christine and it seemed a very convincing match to the scene in the painting. But where did the painting’s current title originate and how might Willie have come to paint it?

a man standing between a white cottage and the shore of a body of water

Port na Sgadan from the South. Image courtesy of Christine Ritchie

Coincidentally, not too long after, when preparing the artwork for loan to the Paths to Abstraction exhibition early this year, Nick Packer, an art technician who sometimes works with us on the collection, questioned the title of the work as well, stating, ‘that’s not Carbeth!’. As a regular visitor to Carbeth himself, the landscape seemed too mountainous and rocky than he recalled. A photo of Carbeth Loch probably taken by Barns-Graham (or a family member) in the late 1920s, shows the gentle grassy shores of the loch and the distinctive Conic Hill in the far distance.

black and white photo of a loch with grass in foreground and hills in far distance. 'The Loch' is written beneath the image

A photograph of Carbeth Loch from an album complied by Barns-Graham between 1926 and 1938

Carbeth or Kintyre?

A search of the Trust’s records ensued to look for evidence both to establish the origin of the title White Cottage, Carbeth and any familiarity Barns-Graham may have had with the suggested Carradale location. As a student at Edinburgh College of Art, Barns-Graham maintained a ‘Private Record of Study + Some Paintings’. Much of what we know of her early paintings is included in the scrapbook, however, this painting is not recorded. Nor does the title appear in any known exhibition catalogue of Barns-Graham’s work published during her lifetime. On the work itself, this image (below) of the back of canvas taken when the work was conserved in 2011 shows the canvas was reused, probably from an earlier student still life, but no title or date is inscribed on the stretcher. The lack of historic evidence for the title’s reference to Carbeth suggests it was perhaps assigned to the work when it was catalogued by the Trust.

the reserve side of an canvas with an oil painting of a still life with a black jug and apples

Verso of White Cottage, c. 1935, after conservation. Photo: Christine Bullick

Our search for link to the location in Kintyre was much more successful. In a photo album compiled by Willie throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, a page is dedicate to a trip to Carradale in 1934, possibly with the family of Anne Smith, one of Willie’s friends from Edinburgh College of Art.

page of photo album with black and white images of groups of people sat together on a beach with 'Carradale 1934' written in white ink at the centre of the page

page from a photo album complied by WBG highlighting a trip to Carradale in 1934

We know little else about how she spent her time in Carradale. Whether she painted this work in situ, or recalled it during a later session in the studio will remain a mystery for now, but with both the style of the painting placing it around mid-1930s and a visit to the proposed location in the same period, we’re happy to admit we probably incorrectly titled the work when it was catalogued.



With thanks to Christine Ritchie for her help identifying the location in the painting and sharing images of Port na Sgadan.