As the Royal Caledonian Curling Club’s diamond jubilee approached in 1898 much thought was given as to how to celebrate the important event.
The main idea for the jubilee had been a brief history of the club. In the hands of the indefatigable chaplain, the Rev. John Kerr, this project blossomed; and instead of a brief sketch there appeared in 1890 the most comprehensive account of the history of, and enthusiastic celebration of every aspect of 'Scotland’s Ain Game' – a work that has never been surpassed.
The idea that bore fruit in 1898 was a companion painting to Charles Lees’s most loved picture, The Grand Match of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club at Linlithgow, which had been created fifty years before. The plan was not to represent an actual Grand Match but to portray the general scene at the Royal Club’s own pond at Carsebreck and to include a comprehensive selection of the curling notables of the day.
The painter, Charles Martin Hardie, RSA, (1858-1916), himself a curler, was selected for the task, but when the true magnitude of the expense involved became clear, and it appeared that the Royal Club’s resources could not meet it, it was the Club’s worthy former president, Sir James Gibson-Craig, convener of the 'selection committee', who commissioned the picture and became its first owner.
(You can see a representation of the painting online here.)
Since the idea was that the picture was to be representative and not personal the decision as to who should be included was the subject of much consultation.
The Annual for 1899-90 contains a long and detailed account of the process by which particular curlers appeared in the finished work.
“From the foregoing summary [the editor writes] it will be seen that, with a very few exceptions where special circumstances have to be considered, to gain a place in the picture a curler had either to have held the highest honour the RCCC can confer, the presidency, or to be the selected representative of his district, or of some club which has gained special honour in the curling world during the last few years. But though the selection has been made from a purely curling point of view, there is no game which can boast of such a list of men among its active votaries who have distinguished themselves in other paths of life as is to be found in this short leet of curlers.
The present government is strongly represented by the First Lord of the Treasury, the Secretary for Scotland, the Lord Chamberlain, and a Lord-in-Waiting, the last one by the Lord High Treasurer and First Commissioner of Works. Colonial Government is represented by a Viceroy of India and Governors of Victoria and South Australia. Municipal government by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh and the Provost of Selkirk, County government by the Lord-Lieutenant of Dumfriesshire and the Conveners of Midlothian, Perthshire, and Fife. The Church by three out of the four Lord High Commissioners since 1868, by the chaplain and by the minister of Mouswald. The Press by a proprietor of the leading newspaper in Scotland. Agriculture by two presidents, nine vice-presidents, the treasurer and several directors of the Highland and Agricultural Society. As representatives of other sports we have the Master of the Renfrewshire Hounds and Captains of the Royal and Ancient and Prestwick Golf Clubs, while Sir Waldie Griffith and Mr. I'Anson represent the Turf. Those who have held or still hold commissions in the Army, Militia, or Volunteers, and members of County Council; Parish Councils, School Boards, etc., are too numerous to mention. The Committee consider they may he congratulated on the success of the selection, and anticipate that the picture and its engravings will be of interest not merely to curlers, but to all Scotsmen.”
The artistic work involved in the capturing of over sixty likenesses was immense. We are fortunate that some of Hardie’s preliminary work survives.
I have recently been fortunate enough to acquire his oil sketch (above) for Sir Mitchell Thomson, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and president of Craiglockhart Curling Club. It is intialled – in pencil on the canvas – and dated 10.2.99. It consists of a right-facing head and shoulders in just the attitude in which he appears in the painting. When he was painted he was in his fifty third year. He was Lord Provost from November 1897 until 1900 and at the conclusion of his term of office he was created a baronet. At the time of his death in 1918 his residence was No. 6 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, now known as Bute House, and the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland.
David B Smith.