John Knox painting tracked down after 100 years

John Knox's painting of 19th century holiday revellers on Glasgow Green
John Knox's painting of 19th century holiday revellers on Glasgow Green
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A MISSING masterpiece by one of Glasgow’s leading artists has been tracked down - after more than 100 years.

John Knox’s painting of 19th century holiday revellers flocking to Glasgow Green has been held in a private collection in the United States for several decades and was wrongly attributed to an Irish artist.

Now an Edinburgh art dealer hopes it will be secured for the nation after snapping it up auction after recognising the work of the Paisley-born artist.

Knox’s colourful portrayal of the annual Glasgow Fair celebrations featured more than 1,000 separate figures.

Painted in 1832, it depicted the transformation of the event held for centuries on Glasgow Green by the arrival of theatre shows, circus acts and drinking booths, as well as the historic monument of Admiral Horatio Nelson, which was erected in 1806.

The painting, called “Glasgow Fair,” was put on display as part of the vast Glasgow International Exhibition which was staged at Kelvingrove Park in 1901.

However it was thought that the painting was sold on by his family shortly afterwards and all trace of it was lost - until now.

Edinburgh-based specialist Patrick Bourne, founder of Bourne Fine Art in the New Town, spotted the painting in a Sotheby’s catalogue, which wrongly stated that it showed the area now occupied by Duthie Park in Aberdeen.

The auction house said that Irish artist William Turner De Lond was behind the “fairground scene” painting, describing him as best known for his large-scale urban crowd scenes. De Lond had travelled to Edinburgh in 1821 to follow the historic visit of King George.

Its catalogue stated: “The present work is an astounding example of De Lond’s ability to act as a realist spectator and documenter of contemporary events.”

However the same painting is featured in an official “History of Glasgow”, which was published in 1834, and is held in the collection at the Mitchell Library.

Born in 1778, Knox, who worked from a studio in Glasgow, became renowned as a landscape painter, thanks to panoramic views of the likes of Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine. He also taught art, with Horatio McCulloch and Daniel Macnee among his pupils.

Mr Bourne said the Knox painting had already been wrongly attributed by the time it was bought by a Louisiana-based private art collector in October 1971 from the London gallery Frost and Reed.

Mr Bourne is managing director of the Fine Art Society, which has premises in London, as well as the Edinburgh gallery on Dundas Street, where the painting is due to go on display from 5 July. Despite paying for it only £82,000 at Sotheby’s, it is now on sale with a price tag of £250,000 thanks to the reputation of Knox.

In its own catalogue, the gallery describes the painting as “a remarkable tour-de-force”.

It adds: “The technical virtuosity of the painting and the care taken in depicting every one of over one thousand figures as an individual character going about their business are beyond Turner De Lond’s capabilities and ambitions.

“Knox has painted the scene just as it appeared before him and as such it is an important document depicting the second city of the Empire in the early years of its phenomenal expansion in the 19th century.”

Mr Bourne told The Scotsman: “Although I know Knox’s work very well and it is very rare to find any of his paintings, I had no idea that of any of his work was actually missing.

“I was already in contact with Michael Stewart, John Knox’s great great great great nephew, and he was aware of the Glasgow Fair painting.

“He had been searching for it for years, so he had mixed feelings about someone else finding it.

“We think there’s going to be an awful lot of interest in it and I’m very hopeful it will end up in one of the main public collections.”