The portrait of Margaret Morris, Lady Balgonie and Eddergoll was presented to her family at their home Balgonie Castle, which featured in The Outlander. The painting will hang in the tower’s staircase and will be on display once the Castle reopens to the public next month.
Lady Balgonie was a much loved person, generous, thoughtful and kind. When I was painting a portrait of her husband, Lady Balgonie had been battling against ill health for some time, so I never had an opportunity to meet her face to face. She passed away unexpectedly one morning. In 2015, the Morris of Balgonie and Eddergoll Family approached me to commission a posthumous portrait of Lady Balgonie. This painting was completed by the anniversary of her death.
This was the most challenging commission I have undertaken so far. First of all, because I prefer to paint from life with a sight-size-approach (which means painting the sitter on the canvas the same size it appears in front of me). Even in those cases, where one needs to supplement this approach with photographic references, one always makes sure to have a couple of sessions from life with the sitter. Naturally, on this occasion painting it from life was out of the equation.
Another difficulty was that Lady Balgonie did not like to have her photograph taken so her family only had a handful of images available. When I use photographs as a reference, I must ensure that these are taken by me or by a photographer who can follow my specifications closely. This guarantees an adequate balance of light and shadow conducive to a good representation of volume and depth. On the other hand, photographs taken with various sources of light or, even worse, using the camera’s flash, produce weak references for classic portraiture.
Yet, with painting almost all things are possible, so for this commission I had to use my intuition and my knowledge of the behaviour of light to create an image that was convincing and portrayed an accurate likeness of Lady Balgonie. I must admit, I also studied the features of her son, Stuart Morris of Balgonie, as he resembles his mother. We cannot escape DNA and as a portrait artist I have become accustomed to looking for and recognising those features that reappear with every new generation. The background of the portrait shows a view of Loch Tay, as seen from Eddergoll in Perthshire, where Margaret and her husband began their family as the Lady and Laird of Eddergoll before moving to Balgonie Castle to become lairds of their medieval fortified home.
I twice travelled to Eddergoll where I visited Lady Balgonie’s former home, a 16th century mill house initially owned by King James II and VII. I made sketches and took some photographs too. On my last visit, across the Loch I noticed the majestic Schiehallion Hill covered with a pure mantle of snow. What breath-taking scenery! One can understand why she loved living there so much. One just becomes a speck of dust within all that splendour. Their former mill house has apex roofs with beautifully carved bargeboards, some of which were hand restored and carved by the Laird himself. I have included this feature in the portrait too.
I have endeavoured to create a convincing likeness of Lady Balgonie in a 16th century context and style, which somehow suits the stone walls of their home. Her portrait marks the beginning of their family in Eddergoll and the portrait of the Laird, which features and aerial view of Balgonie, points to the end of her life in Balgonie Castle, a poignant arrangement that reminds me of the transience of our existence.
The moment of truth had come some time ago, when her family saw the finished work for the first time and the Laird, with the voice of an old lion mellowed with an emotive note exclaimed: “Yes! That was my Margaret!” This was the greatest reward for me, for all those months of toiling and battling with my brush, my mind and my heart.
To a wonderful woman, Margaret Morris of Balgonie and Eddergoll (1938 - 2014).