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Gourlay Steell R.S.A. (1819-1894).

'Burns at the Plough

Turns up a Field Mouse from her Nest' 

Oil on panel. Signed. Giltwood Frame 

Image 39x30cm. In Gilt frame 65x55cm

(Reference 492) Price: SOLD


Exhibition label to reverse.

An engraving from this original is in the Burns Birthplace Museum, Ayrshire, Scotland.


This work is one of immense richness : the thick chestnut hue of the horse’s coat to the delicate lilac of the late Autumn sky; and detail: the warm breath from the horse’s nose as it meets the cold air and Burns’ reflective stance on the nature of the land, his land of Scotland. It is as poetic as the poet it portrays and as firmly set in the earth of Burns’ and Steell’s homeland. The poet of the land of the Scots, is physically in contact with the land and earth of Scotland. This work combines extreme levels of skill, gentleness and strength, producing a work of subtlety and power.


Steell was a Scottish animal painter. He was appointed ‘Animal Painter for Scotland’ by Queen Victoria, (after the death of Landseer in 1873), and painter to the Highland and Agricultual Society. Steell was the son of John S. an Edinburgh engraver and brother of Sir John S., a sculptor. Gourlay’s son, David George, also became a painter of animal and sporting subjects. He studied at Trustees Academy and with R.S. Lauder.  He exhibited at the Royal Academy 1865-80. Steell was elected ARSA in 1846 and Royal Scottish Academy in 1859.  Queen Victoria’s appointment of him as ‘Animal Painter for Scotland’ and the prestige this carried, ensured him a virtual monopoly of annual sporting commissions in Scotland. He also painted historical and genre scenes. 

The subject matter in this work must have been close to Steell’s heart and sense of identity, as he paints horses, (the depiction of which he built his fame and renown), and Robert Burns, (1759-96), the poet holding the Scottish sense of a people and a nation.

His works are collected and reside in many collections worldwide,

including the Queen’s Collection.


The engraving in the 'Burns Birthplace Museum', Ayrshire, Scotland, (taken from this original Steell oil painting), is titled, 'Burns at the Plough Turning up a Mouse in her Nest'.  The story goes that whilst at the plough, Burns unwittingly destroyed the home of a field mouse.  He was so upset by this, that he wrote 'Ode to a Mouse'. You can see the tiny body of the field mouse in the furrow, in the foreground of this super picture.

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