Dunnett painting of Duncan Macrae on display in Glasgow

A couple of weeks before the DDRA AGM in April I received a enquiry about something I’d been trying to follow up for some years. It was from a copyright officer at the Public Catalogue Foundation who was working on a series of catalogues called Oil Paintings in Public Ownership. She told me they were preparing to publish two catalogues of paintings held by Glasgow Museums and were requesting my assistance in contacting the family or estate of the late Lady Dorothy Dunnett as one of the painting they were cataloguing was Duncan Macrae (1905–1967), as Jamie the Saxt.

I was happy to put them in touch with Dorothy’s family and asked where exactly the painting was currently being displayed. It turned out that it is now on show at the People’s Palace on Glasgow Green.

As I was going to be in Glasgow on business a couple of weeks later I immediately decided to visit the museum and soon found it on the top floor high on one of the end walls. To my surprise the card describing the painting had no attribution and I asked one of the members of staff about it, using the name Dorothy Dunnett. He replied that it was by Dorothy Halliday (her maiden name of course) but that they had no further details about her. Fortunately a few minutes later he was able to contact Fiona Hayes, the convenor of social history at the museum and we chatted for a few minutes during which time I was able to give her some details and direct her to this website. It seems they had not realised the connection between Dorothy Halliday and Dorothy Dunnett and any other information had been lost when the painting was moved there from the Citizens’ Theatre where it hung for many years.

I hope to get permission to use a copy of the photograph taken for the catalogue but in the meantime here is one that I took myself. Duncan Macrae was a well-known and loved Scottish actor and his performance as King James VI in Robert McLellan’s classic Scots language comedy has gone down in theatre legend.

Duncan Macrae as Jamie the Saxt, by Dorothy Dunnett (nee Halliday)

Duncan Macrae as Jamie the Saxt, by Dorothy Dunnett (nee Halliday)

You will notice the Crown and Sceptre of Scotland in the bottom-right of the painting. Their inclusion required that Dorothy be locked into the Crown Room at Edinburgh Castle overnight so that she could capture their images while not interfering with their public display.

Alastair Dunnett describes in his autobiography how Macrae would often fall asleep while sitting for the painting and would drop the book which you see in his right hand. Since the book was an old and valuable one of Alastair’s he took to setting a cushion underneath it to catch it when it fell.

If you happen to be in Glasgow do drop into the People’s Palace and see the portrait.

Forthcoming talk on Dorothy Dunnett’s Life and Work

As part of the Fife Heroes celebration of famous individuals born in that county I’ve been asked to give a talk about Dorothy, who was of course born in Dunfermline.

It will take place in the Carnegie Library, Abbot Street, Dunfermline KY12 7NL, on 13th May at 7.30pm. After 7pm entry is by the side door on St Margaret Street. There is apparently a charge of £2.50

The event will probably last in the region of 1½ hours in total with the talk being around 45 minutes followed by any questions and discussion.

The talk will be a general one aimed mostly at people who are less familiar with Dorothy’s life, although if the audience that arrive turn out to be expert readers I may adapt it a bit as I go along. I understand the capacity of the room is around 50. Look forward to seeing any of you who can make it along.

The Semple Trail near Lochwinnoch

While Lymond’s places of interest are well visited, those that are unique to Nicholas are rather less so. This is partly because they are set further away from Edinburgh and the Borders which are the natural focus for most trips, and maybe a little because the scenery is a little less dramatic and there is less evidence on the ground that can be connected to the stories. However for House of Niccolo fans who want to get an idea of the landscape in which Dorothy placed Beltrees and Kilmirren a visit to Castle Semple Loch in the west of Scotland is a worthwhile trip.

The loch is a well-used facility for the local community – there is a sailing club, rowing club, windsurfing, and a bird-watching centre run by the RSPB. Curiously however it hasn’t been possible to walk right round the loch until recently. Following negotiations and path extensions the Semple Trail, the first parts of which were opened in May 2008 by Lord Jamie Semple, is now complete and runs fully around the loch and is already proving popular – indeed someone apparently complained to the council that it hadn’t been gritted during the recent very cold weather that reduced many of Scotland’s roads to near ice rinks!

Readers interested in this area can take  look at a couple of sites:

The Lochwinnoch Village website

which contains a number of interesting pages including some history of the real Crawford family of the area, and an extensive photo gallery which gives a good flavour of the area and includes a picture of the place known as Auld Simon. There’s also a section of old maps which I always find fascinating and some lovely old stories by a former park ranger. It seems to be a thriving community with a good sense of history and the site is worth exploring for a wealth of local information.

The Castle Semple Centre on the Visit Scotland site

Stirling Castle heads recreated and on display

Any readers with an interest in the architecture of Lymond’s time, and particularly anyone who was at the Dunnett Gathering Banquet of 2000 or the later DDRA visit to Stirling Castle will be interested in the news that the replicas of Stirling Heads are on display prior to being painted in bright Renaissance colours and put in place in the King’s Presence Chamber as part of the £12 million restoration of the Royal apartments.

The original 16th century versions were regarded as masterpieces and of great historical importance. The ceiling collapsed in the late 18th century but the some of the heads themselves, which are approximately a metre wide, were preserved and have now been recreated, a task that has taken 5 years. The heads depict members of the Scottish Royal family, other important European rulers, and mythical heros.

The display lasts until the 21st February but pictures of the heads can be seen on the BBC website and comments by the wood-carver John Donaldson can be seen on the Stirling Castle blog.

The palace restoration is due to be finished by 2011 and should be a magnificent attraction for anyone interested in the period.