Sunday Evening Reflection: The Campbell Sisters Dancing a Waltz

National Galleries Scotland

National Galleries Scotland is one of my most favorite galleries. Perhaps it is because I feel that I have come home, welcomed by the artistic energy that pervades the spacious rooms. I feel a profound sense of history and destiny as I take in the paintings and sculptures. I am connecting with the artists and subjects, without the barriers of time and location.

The Campbell Sisters dancing a waltz by Lorenzo Bartolini are in continual motion as the portraits and sculptures look on with benevolent interest. Do you hear the music? It is there, unmistakable if you listen to the strains coming through the centuries. I am transported back to the early 1800’s to the time of Emma and Julia Campbell, the youngest daughters of Lady Charlotte Campbell, who, in turn, was the youngest daughter of the 5th Duke of Argyll.

The Campbell Sisters dancing a waltz was originally installed at Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Dukes of Argyll, chiefs of the Clan Campbell, since the 18th century. Eventually the sculpture made its way to the Scottish National Galleries on loan. The “Sisters” were held safe in the gallery for 20 years.

And then the unimaginable occurred! The sculpture was placed up for auction by the owner and was soon sold and on its way to an overseas museum. I can only imagine the concern when the news came that the Campbell Sisters would be dancing far away from Scotland’s shores.

All was not lost! A ruling came through that the export should be delayed for six months to allow UK museums to match the auction price. If they could, the Campbell Sisters would remain safe at home.

The campaign to raise funds was successful. The Campbell Sisters dancing the waltz was purchased jointly by the National Galleries of Scotland and the Victoria and Albert Museum, with the aid of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), and a donation in memory of A. V. B. Norman, 2015

Join in a waltz with the Campbell Sisters.

50 Thoughts

    1. I agree, Gallivanta! There is a feeling of pure joy and simplicity in their movements, for indeed I always see them in motion. How a sculpture can do this, is magic. I am glad that the sisters remained in Scotland. An artwork seems to have a life beyond that of the creator. Some travel the world and find new homes. Thank you for joining Emma, Julia and I on the dance floor. Sending many hugs!

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    1. I have been looking back into my photos these past months, something I wanted to do for a long time. I know realize that “home” can be many things: a tea salon, coffee shop, movie theatre, meditation sanctuary, and a library/research centre.. Art galleries are special places, indeed. They hold the soul of our culture and humanity. I am learning how to visit them virtually these days. Sending many hugs.

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  1. What an exceptional start into the new week, dear Rebecca, by being guided through this exhibition of the dancing Campbell sisters:) The old man with all its details is also just great! I really enjoyed it and it brought back some memories of our visits to Florence and the sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini ! Many thanks and have a good week:) Big hug Martina

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    1. I am so glad you enjoyed this post. I am going to be doing some research into the “old man” for that is what it seems. However, it is an “old woman” that is thought to be one of a set of three. Yes, I read that it is likely that this sculpture is one of the three “Fates” I love the the detailed hands and forehead. I now wonder, which one of the fates is this sculpture? Clotho (Spinner), Lachesis (Allotter), or Atropos (Inflexible). My thought that sense the hands are so pronounced, we are looking at Clotho. Oh, I do love the stories that are hidden. Art galleries always remind me that there is more to know than is on the surface. Sending many hugs back your way.

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      1. Unfortunately, I don’t have any idea of who of the fates is who, but I think that it could be that these old hands also belong to them all, because old age is something that concerns us all! It would be great, if you told me the result of your researches:)
        By the way, I wanted to tell you that a few years ago we went to Zrich to see exactly that exhibition of Alberto Giacometti’s works in Zurich and then went also to see what Augusto Giacometti did in Zurich and I liked that very much! The Giacometti’s seemed to have been a whole dynasty of artists!
        Have a good day, dear Rebecca

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      2. I am very interested in the fates, but have only a little knowledge of the mythology behind them. It seems that they are in more than Greek mythology. And a huge thank you for introducing me to Augusto Giacometti. What an extraordinary creative family. I just did a Google search on Augusto and came up with this from Wikipedia: “Augusto Giacometti was a Swiss painter from Stampa, Graubünden, cousin of Giovanni Giacometti who was the father of Alberto, Diego and Bruno Giacometti. He was a prominent as a painter in the Art Nouveau and Symbolism movements, for his work in stained glass, as a proponent of murals and a designer of popular posters.” I feel another research project coming my way!!! Hugs!!

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    1. Oh, Shehanne – I have a story for you. As I watched Julia and Emma dance, I imagined them as they aged, wondering where they lives took them. They are so young in this moment. Well, there is much more to the story as I often find out when I start to dig a little deeper. Julia went on to marry Peter Langford-Brooke of Mere Hall in Cheshire. Mere Hall came into the Brooke family in 1652. Julia’s husband built a New Hall in 1834 and let out the old house to Manchester merchants and manufacturers. I can only imagine Julia in the midst of construction. As for Emma, – she married William Russell, youngest son of Lord William Russell. What I found interesting was that Lord William Russell was murdered by his valet so can you imagine how that story would follow them… There is more, but I digress. Sending hugs!

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      1. Have you ever noticed we live a story everyday. The plot thickens. According to my research, the valet did the deed when he was caught stealing. He was going to lose his position so thought that he would keep it if silenced his employer, sometime during the night when he was asleep. The valet was eventually hanged. There were two witnesses in that crowd of 40,000 who witnessed this event: Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. Events such as these would no doubt have influenced their writing.

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      2. What a story! I think this one falls under “you can’t make this stuff up.” There seems to be a lack in logic with thinking you’ll keep a valet position if the person for whom you provide this service is dead.

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  2. Such a graceful sculpture, Rebecca! And it works so well in that particular room. Thanks for your eloquent and thorough presentation about this great piece of art, and its history.

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    1. Oh Dave – I’m so glad that you joined Emma, Julia and me dancing a waltz. I have some great trivia for you that came out of my research into the Campbell family. Emma and Julia’s mother, Lady Charlotte Susan Maria Bury, was an English novelist and is remembered in connection with a “Diary Illustrative of the Times of George IV (1838). This on top of having 11 children and two spouses. One of her daughters was a paleontologist and another daughter a writer. So many stories captured in one sculpture. You are so right about the art works so well in in that room. I often imagine all of the paintings and sculptures coming alive after closing, just like “Night at the Museum.”

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  3. Thank you for this interesting piece of history. I am happy that this stature has remained where it really belongs. I was glad that you included photos of the faces of both dancers, I am quite sure the artist would have been true to use their features. I also enjoyed the music that you chose. All, very enjoyable! !

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    1. I am delighted that you joined the waltz. What came through beautifully was that the sculptor had a deep understanding of the connection between the two sisters. What I found interesting was that at the base of the sculpture, there is a dedication to the English sculptor John Flaxman. I understated that Lorenzo Bartolini admired him very much. Which sent me on another tangent to find out more about John Flaxman. What I found out surprised me and gave me another path to follow: Early in John Flaxman’s career, he was a modeler for Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery. One story leads to another and another and another. Exciting research. Many many hugs!

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  4. What an exquisite sculpture and its fascinating history, Rebecca! The faces have that classical Greek, almost generic, look. (I can’t know this for sure since I don’t see, or am I missing another likeness of the sisters?) However, the sculptor created such beautiful flowing garments, and their arms and hands are likewise so lifelike. The dimpling on one of the hands is wonderful. The dance movement is experienced through Bartolini’s craftsmanship. So delighted to share this waltz with you. Love and hugs for sharing this!

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    1. The flowing garments and the hand placement was what captured Don’s (aka my techie) attention first. Whenever we visit an art gallery, I go to the paintings first, while Don goes directly to the sculptures. As I looked up into the faces, I envisioned the sisters moving through their lives. Emma married William Russell, youngest son of Lord William Russell and Julia married Peter Langford-Brooke of Mere Hall in Cheshire. So many stories held in art!! I am so glad that you joined in the waltz with us. I knew you would hear the music.

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    1. Who knows, we may have passed each other in the rooms – a wonderful thought. Red is my favourite colour, which always energizes a room. Yes, the museums and art galleries are free to visit, but the churches have an entry fee. That is, unless you attend the services – my favourite evensong. The organ music and choir add so much to the ambience and architecture. So glad you joined me! Always appreciate your company.

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  5. This has to be one of the most beautiful sculptures I’ve ever seen. The simplicity of the sisters’ hair and clothing is in such marked contrast to the paintings on the walls, the women in elaborate wigs, and restrictive clothing, with rather haughty expressions on their painted faces. It’s almost as if the sisters were dancing one last dance of gentle, unfettered youth before being forced into their social roles as adult women.

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    1. I am delighted that you joined Julia, Emma and me on the dance floor. I know which painting you mean – the three ladies at the table: The Ladies Waldergrave by Joshua Reynolds. This is from the notation on the National Galleries website which resonates with your thought: “Reynolds was particularly skilled at choosing poses and actions which suggested a sitter’s character and which also created a strong composition. Here, three sisters, the daughters of the 2nd Earl Waldegrave, are shown collaboratively working on a piece of needlework. The joint activity links the girls together. On the left, the eldest, Lady Charlotte, holds a skein of silk, which the middle sister, Lady Elizabeth, winds onto a card. On the right, the youngest, Lady Anna, works a tambour frame, using a hook to make lace on a taut net.”

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  6. ‘Tis a glorious sculpture!
    You have presented it beautifully. You make me think.
    In terms of daughters, wives, royalty… they set the fashion ideas of their day, and beyond sometimes. By the time a fashion met the masses, it could be 100 years old. (going way back). Late 1800’s, early 1900’s, these women of privilege were still the “Super Models” of the day. Things changed, yet we still have super models. It’s not position now, it’s a physical beauty type.
    Still, I think of all the artists who died in poverty. Many captured the beauty of their wives, daughters and atelier models, no one caring until a moment when $$$ was attached to the artist.
    It seems to me art remains. Vanity, power and wealth tries to have/collect it all.
    Thank goodness for art galleries, museums and collections that share this wealth.
    Lol! Still, the annual dues for a membership to the AGO is out of my budget range. Nonetheless, there are several Henry Moore’s out in Toronto’s public sphere.

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    1. Thank you for adding depth and breath to this conversation, Resa!! I often think of Vincent Van Gogh. How surprised he would be to know that his paintings were loved, cherished and worth a fortune. His words: “A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke” always bring a poignancy. I really appreciated your thought: “It seems to me art remains.” How very well said. In the end, we will not be remembered for our wealth or power or beauty. We will be remembered for the love we gave, the kindness we exhibited and the hope that we inspired. I agree – thank goodness for our art galleries, museums and libraries. I am enjoying visiting them virtually. Sending hugs along with my thanks!!!

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  7. What a lovely choice, Rebecca. There’s so much movement in the statue. The curl of the fingers, the tilt of the head, and particularly in the draping of the gowns. It wouldn’t be surprising if they actually did begin to waltz. Hugs on the wing.

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    1. I am so glad that you heard the music, Teagan. There are times when I feel that we can enter new dimensions simply by imagining ourselves in a different place and a different time – we will find ourselves whisked away. Remember that famous line from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.”

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  8. Beautiful…! Its like a trip back thru the museums of Italia, France, and though less regularly England, our must do when travelling, save for seems a while these will have to be virtual visits, thus as with your present help from in this Sunday Reflections. Thank you, Rebecca!

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    1. I do miss travel, Jean-Jacques. I am looking back at all of my photos and remembering. I am forever grateful for those creative individuals who invented the camera. We are learning how to interact in a virtual world that is still an unknown for most of us.

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  9. How absolutely stunning is this sculpture, Rebecca. The Campbell Sisters sure were two gorgeous looking gals, and the quality of the sculpting is, to me, inconceivable.
    I am always greatly impressed by the way the artist can fashion the material to look so graceful, flowing and, for want of a better description; real. The ‘movement’ is quite incredible.

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