Highland Music is one of a group of Scottish genre subjects Landseer produced during the late 1820s and early 1830s. He painted this picture at his Highland retreat in Glen Feshie, near Braemar, where the Duchess of Bedford had built a series of wooden and turf huts. Typical of the series, it is a highly finished interior scene, focusing on the humble pleasures of everyday life in the Highlands. The influence of Dutch art is clear in the minute detail and the effect of light, especially on the domestic utensils, but the touch of humour created by the dogs is unique to Landseer.
The reviewer for the Court Journal thought the title of Highland Music was 'facetious' and described the work as 'half-a-dozen dogs howling to the sound of their master's bagpipes - as if they had never heard it before, and as if the principal performers in such a concert would be likely to continue it under such accompaniments' (Court Journal, 6 February 1830). Landseer juxtaposes human and canine behaviour in a similar way in another of his Scottish interiors, A Highland Breakfast (c.1834, Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Whereas in Highland Music, he compares the wailing of the bagpipes with the dogs' howling, in the later painting he contrasts a mother feeding her baby with a terrier suckling her puppies.
Landseer's dog paintings of the 1830s are among his most popular works. About half consist of commissioned, life-size dog 'portraits', the rest are independent subjects, smaller in scale and usually with a narrative content. Dogs figure largely in the novels of Sir Walter Scott, and the subject of this picture may have been suggested by Landseer's concurrent commission to illustrate the Waverley novels, which appeared from 1829 onwards.
The picture was exhibited at the British Institution in 1830 and was probably the first Landseer acquired by Robert Vernon, who had an important collection of 19th Century British art. Vernon went on to add several more works by Landseer to his collection, seven of which he bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1847. Two of these were destroyed in the flood of 1928, but five are still in the Tate collection (A00702, A00703, N00412, N00409 and N00415).
Robin Hamlyn, Robert Vernon's Gift - British Art for the Nation 1847, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1993, p.51, no.40, reproduced p.51.
Richard Ormond, Sir Edwin Landseer, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia 1982, p.82.
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