Charles Lees’ Sporting Masterpieces United

Today two great sporting masterpieces were brought together at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. Charles Lees’ iconic painting The Grand Match at  Linlithgow Loch (1848) is now on display alongside Lees’ other world famous painting The Golfers (1847), as part of the Playing for Scotland: The Making of Modern Sport exhibition. To mark the occasion, a press event was held, which was attended by representatives from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, the Scottish Curling Trust, National Galleries of Scotland and a dozen journalists and photographers (pictured).

The Grand Match at Linlithgow Loch depicts the famous encounter between curling rinks from north and south of the River Forth in 1848 on Queen Mary’s Loch in Linlithgow, and contains 47 portraits of distinguished curlers of the time. This hugely impressive painting has recently been restored, following a successful fund raising campaign by the Scottish Curling Trust, something which would not have been possible were it not for the generous support from members of the RCCC.  The painting will now be on loan at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for the Playing for Scotland exhibition which is set to continue until 15 November 2015.

B1xIrG3IgAAlhnKAt the time Lees painted his curling masterpiece, the sport was at the height of its popularity, and around half of the sports clubs in Scotland were curling clubs; the game was played as far north as Aberdeen but did not become popular in the Highlands until the 1870s. The match immortalised by Lees attracted 680 curlers and 6,000 spectators, demonstrating the importance of the new railway network in creating a mass audience for sport.

Charles Lees was born in Cupar, Fife in 1800 and trained as a painter with the great Scottish master, Sir Henry Raeburn. From the 1840s he began to specialise in the depiction of sporting subjects and The Golfers was his first major painting of this type. Its huge success was repeated with the Grand Match of Linlithgow in 1848 and both paintings are now among the most significant sporting paintings in the world.

Commenting on the display, Cristopher Baker, Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery said: “It’s wonderful to be able to bring these two paintings together, and we are grateful to the RCCC for their generosity in lending The Grand Match at Linlithgow Loch, making it possible for a great number of people to see and enjoy this remarkable painting. The Grand Match and The Golfers reveal the transformation of curling and golf into truly popular Scottish sports, midway through the nineteenth century.”

Bruce Crawford, Chief Executive Officer of The Royal Caledonian Curling Club added: “We are privileged to witness the occasion when these two historic masterpieces depicting great Scottish sporting events have been brought together in Playing for Scotland. The Grand Match at Linlithgow Loch has been restored this year, following a three year fundraising campaign, led by Alan Sloan and supported by hundreds of curlers and art lovers. We must thank them all for making the restoration possible and bringing the painting back to life and back on public display after 20 years in storage.”

There has not been an outdoor Grand Match for 35 years, though we are always hopeful that sufficient frost will make it possible again.

Photo top right: The Royal Caledonian Curling Club President, David Henderson

Photo bottom left: Michael Gormley

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