Scott’s pal’s sketch book up for grabs at auction

A rare album of sketches by Sir Walter Scott’s close friend, Sir James Skene of Rubislaw, is to be auctioned live online by Edinburgh-headquartered Lyon & Turnbull next Wednesday (February 24).

The album is expected to fetch between £10,000 and £12,000
The album is expected to fetch between £10,000 and £12,000

Described as a “significant artefact in Scottish cultural history” by an expert in Scott – and the relationship between the two men – the drawings were done between 1793 and 1834, and the collection is expected to fetch between 10,000 and £12,000.

One of the pictures features Sir Walter’s final resting place, Dryburgh Abbey.

Skene, a lawyer and talented amateur artist, who came from a prominent Aberdeen family, sketched scenes, not only in Scotland, but around Europe, at Scott’s request, in a role analogous to that of a photographer.

Scott drew detail and inspiration from these images, sometimes featuring places he had never visited, and they would form the basis of many of his settings throughout his poetry and in The Waverley Novels.

Forgotten for 200 years, the importance of the album was uncovered during lockdown by the great-great-great grandson of renowned lighthouse engineer, Robert Stevenson (grandfather of celebrated author Robert Louis Stevenson).

James Will, a former lawyer, decided to use the time to find out more about the book that had been lying among family papers.

He explained: "I suspect my grandfather, Alan Stevenson, purchased the album at auction in the 1950s given his love of lighthouse illustrations.

"However, I can only speculate as an acquaintance has been documented between Robert Stevenson and Sir James Skene, suggesting a possible earlier connection."

Professor Richard Hill, an Edinburgh University graduate now working at Chaminade University of Honolulu, said: "Sir Walter Scott called James Skene "his artist”, partly as a mark of deep respect and friendship, but also because of their creative working relationship.

"This collection represents an artistic collaboration between one of world literature's most important authors, and his artist-friend whose work inspired some of the most famous scenes of Scottish literature."

Cathy Marsden, a rare books specialist at Lyon & Turnbull, added: “I was so excited to see this album – it’s a remarkable collection of illustrations which capture the sights and experiences encountered by one of Scotland's greatest and most influential writers and his close friend.

"It will be really interesting to see how the bidding goes and be part of finding the drawings a new home."