On this day 200 years ago The Black Watch was present at the Battle of Quatre Bras. The battle is depicted in ‘The Black Watch at Bay’ by W B Wollen, an epic-scale painting from the Museum collection.
The Black Watch at Bay is one of the most magnificent paintings in the collection and has become an icon of the Museum, due in no small part to its topic and its size, an impressive 156 by 215cm. The painting was brought to the Museum in 1950 with the assistance of an endowment from the late Major-General A. H. Marindin. It is the largest painting in the Museum’s permanent collections and is currently displayed in the Café, on a wall built specifically for its size.
The Black Watch at Bay captures the moment when the 42nd were ordered to hold the cross roads at Quatre Bras on 16th June 1815, this was a critical point in the Regiment’s history. Advancing through head-height rye, they were caught out of square by French cavalry. Lieutenant Colonel Macara is pictured (top left), shouting orders to his troops. During the battle, Macara was killed and Robert Dick took command. Despite losing its Colonel and other senior officers, the 42nd managed to form a square, forcing the French to retire. They held the cross roads and this allowed Wellington to pass onto Waterloo and his great victory two days later, in which both the 42nd and the 73rd Regiments took part. In the upper left corner of the painting, in the background, two flags are depicted – these are the Regimental Colours. The Regimental Colours carried at Quatre Bras and Waterloo are on display in the French Wars gallery.
Painted in 1894, the artist, William Barnes Wollen (b.1857-d.1936), was a leading practitioner in historicising battle painting in the nineteenth-century. He was later engaged by The Sphere newspaper as its official war artist covering the Boer War but is highly regarded for his battle paintings of the Napoleonic era. Wollen’s work is included in the collections of the National Army Museum, the National War Museum of Scotland and several English Regimental museums.