News. Introducing the Scottish Wrights
17th of April, 2019
Since His Royal Highness Prince Charles stepped in to save Dumfries House in 2007, the striking Ayrshire home has become one of the region’s most popular attractions. And within the perimeter of Robert Adam’s stunning neoclassical design, visitors can expect to discover an equally iconic collection of furniture that showcases the work of some of Scotland’s finest craftsmen. While Dumfries House is perhaps most famous for its collection of pieces by 18th-century cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale, there are plenty further gems with tales to tell of the design talent emanating from Scotland at that time.
“I know of no other house where you’ll see an ensemble of the quality we are fortunate enough to show our guests,” says Alex Macdonald, Dumfries House’s head guide. “There was a tradition of well-educated wrights in Scotland and a number of them – such as James Tait and Samuel Smith – went to London and may even have worked with Thomas Chippendale, so they were skilled and prized craftsmen.” A keen knowledge of Palladian architecture and access to good quality mahogany coming back from Jamaica through the Clyde ports at this time enabled a skilled group of Edinburgh craftsman were able to carve themselves a worthy niche.
One such artisan was Alexander Peter, a cabinet-maker who worked for the Edinburgh Upholstery Company – one of the foremost companies in the field at the time. Peter – alongside his apprentice William Mathie – was one of the key furniture craftsmen at Dumfries House during this time and he created most of the seated furniture to the house, including the sofa in the family parlour room and the chairs and table found in the pink dining room. “We often remark that we have around 60 pieces by Thomas Chippendale but we have significantly more made by Alexander Peter, so it stands as a record of the finest Edinburgh produced furniture of the period,” adds Macdonald.
Another Scottish craftsman who left his mark on Dumfries House is Francis Brodie – one of Scotland’s most significant cabinet-makers and a key figure in Edinburgh life in the late 18th century. “It’s rare to find surviving pieces from Francis Brodie but on the Gallery Floor is a room we refer to as the Brodie Bedroom,” says Macdonald. “Here, the ladies closet is particularly important and indicative of his style. The dimensions are smaller than the slightly later Scottish pieces we have by Alexander Peter and William Mathie but the size was governed by room sizes at the time in the Old Town at Edinburgh."
Words: Ben Olsen
Photography: Simon Brown