Our art collection – The Black Watch at Bay by W B Wollen

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The Black Watch at Bay by William Barnes Wollen

The Castle and Museum holds an impressive collection of both official and personal materials that reflect the life and activities of Scotland’s most Senior Highland Regiment. The Museum has a particularly fine collection of paintings, including items deemed of National significance. Here we will highlight one of our artwork pieces that you can see when you visit the Museum.

The Black Watch at Bay has pride of place in our award winning Copper Beech Cafe where it is hung above the grand stone fireplace. This 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. The Black Watch at Bay was painted in 1894 by the artist William Barnes Wollen (b.1857-d.1936). He 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.

The painting captures the moment when the 42nd were ordered to hold the cross roads at Quatre Bras on 16th June 1815, which 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 (near the Colours at the 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 hand 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 have recently been restored and are displayed in the French Wars Gallery in the case sponsored by the Friends.

This piece was written using research conducted by Helen Smailes, Senior Curator of British Art at the National Galleries of Scotland and Alan Carswell, our redevelopment external project manager

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