Historic Scots youth hostel’s art goes up for sale

Former Carbisdale Castle youth hostel in Sutherland. Picture: Contributed
Former Carbisdale Castle youth hostel in Sutherland. Picture: Contributed
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FOR more than half a century it was one of Scotland’s most spectacular and historic youth hostels until rising repair costs forced its closure.

Now the Scottish Youth Hostels Association (SYHA) is set for a windfall of more than half a million pounds after deciding to put Carbisdale Castle’s art collection up for sale.

Nymph at the Stream, left, is one of the items up for sale. Picture: Sothebys

Nymph at the Stream, left, is one of the items up for sale. Picture: Sothebys

A group of Victorian sculptures of goddesses and nymphs – collected by the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland for the castle she built after the death of her husband – are described by experts at Sotheby’s as “works of astonishing grace and beauty”.

They are coming on to the market for the first time in more than a century after the prospective new owners of the B-listed building, which overlooks the Kyle of Sutherland, declined the opportunity buy them from the SYHA.

The marble sculptures were one of the most popular features of the remote hostel near the village of Culrain in Sutherland, which attracted around 20,000 visitors a year.

The building was put up for sale with a £1.2 million price tag last year after the SYHA – which closed the site down after it suffered millions of pounds worth of water damage during a severe winter four years ago – said it could not afford the repair bill.

This sale will bring to market a highly desirable group of Victorian marble sculptures

Keith Legge

It is understood the castle, which was built between 1906 and 1917, is set to be turned into a luxury hotel if its sale goes through as expected at the end of this month.

The SYHA, which was left the castle by a Scots-Norwegian family in 1945, decided to put the site up for sale last summer after ruling out carrying out a major fundraising campaign and refurbishment project to get it operational as a hostel again.

The charitable body was given permission to sell the paintings and sculptures separately from the B-listed building by Historic Scotland.

It was built by Mary Caroline, the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland, using a settlement she won following a legal battle after the death of her husband and furnished it herself with works of art.

Carbisdale Castle was built by Mary Caroline, the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland. Picture: Ian Jolly

Carbisdale Castle was built by Mary Caroline, the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland. Picture: Ian Jolly

A total of 17 sculptures from the “Carbisdale Castle Collection” will be coming under the hammer at Sotheby’s next month, along with 36 Italian and Scottish 19th-century paintings, although the majority of the latter are said to be copies.

Keith Legge, chief executive of the SYHA, said the sell-off of the building and its art collection was “sad and difficult situation”.
Christopher Mason, European sculpture specialist at Sotheby’s, said: “This sale will bring to market a highly desirable group of Victorian marble sculptures that have been off the market for over a century.

“Encompassing the neoclassicism of the early part of the 19th century to the fantastical romanticism of the Belle Epoque years, the works on offer shine a light not only on collecting tastes at the height of the British Empire, but also on how sculptors of the period created works of astonishing beauty and grace through their masterful handling of ­marble.”