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Glasgow Museums secures iconic John Michael Wright portrait of Lord Mungo Murray for the city
John Michael Wright, Portrait of Lord Mungo Murray. Glasgow Museums Collection.

GLASGOW.- Glasgow Museums has secured A Highland Chieftain: Portrait of Lord Mungo Murray c.1683, a truly iconic portrait for the culture of Gaelic Scotland, by John Michael Wright (1617-1694) for the city. The striking painting is the earliest major portrait to depict a sitter full-length in Highland dress. Mungo Murray, aged 15, wears an exquisite doublet and féileadh mór, or belted plaid in tartan that pre-dates the invention of kilts and clan tartans.

The purchase was made with the generous support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Art Fund, Friends of Glasgow Museums and the National Fund for Acquisitions. The painting has been put on display in the Scottish Identity in Art gallery at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, juxtaposed with interesting examples of Scottish weaponry, textiles and decorative art objects, which provide fascinating historical context.

A Highland Chieftain: Portrait of Lord Mungo Murray is certain to delight local visitors and anyone with a Scottish family connection given its historical significance and insight, which allows for a better understanding of Scottish national heritage.

Chair of Glasgow Life and Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council, Councillor David McDonald, said: ‘We are indebted to The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Art Fund, Friends of Glasgow Museums and the National Fund for Acquisitions. Our successful acquisition of this hugely significant painting for Scottish culture and national identity ensures it remains accessible to the public who have come to love and identify with the work. Visitors can learn more about the painting and the artist through a programme of events and activities that will accompany its display in Kelvingrove.

‘The portrait supports Glasgow Museums’ Scottish history, dress and textile and military collections, providing invaluable information for cultural historians interested in our national heritage, Gaelic culture and Highland identity’.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Director, Scotland, Caroline Clarke, said: ‘This striking work-of-art is a photograph of its time, capturing a period in our social history which predates the Highland dress we recognise today. We’re delighted that thanks to National Lottery funding, it will form the centerpiece of a gallery where everyone can see and enjoy it while exploring Scotland’s heritage and identity.’

Art Fund Director Stephen Deuchar, said: ‘Lord Mungo Murray’s fine portrait draws on the ideology of the brave and fearless warrior, so much part of Scotland’s history and identity. It’s an excellent addition to Glasgow Museums’ permanent collection, enriching the story of one the most celebrated of Highland Chieftains.’

The large-scale work presents Lord Mungo Murray (1668-1700) as a powerful Highlander warrior, standing in a mountainous landscape with his servant in the background carrying his master's longbow and fur-decorated targe. Mungo Murray is clothed with an exquisite paned wool doublet embroidered with silver and silver-gilt threads, which demonstrates his wealth and status as an aristocratic and cosmopolitan Highland Scot. He proudly holds a long gun made for hunting, sports a brass basket-hilted sword of ribbon-hilt form and a lavishly-decorated dirk, the ornamental knot-work of which is unique to the Gàidhealtachd (Gaelic speaking regions) and wears a brace of steel pistols, complete with rams-horn’ shaped butts hooked on each side of his belt, a design that was exclusive to Scotland.

The safeguarding of such an iconic artwork for the culture of Scotland will enable Glasgow Museums to advance their research into Gaelic culture and Scottish history. Through family events, educational workshops, talks and tours, handling sessions and craft opportunities focused on the painting, curators will explore issues of tartan myths; the meaning of Scottish identity in a multi-cultural, richly diverse society; gender stereotypes, toxic masculinity; teenage culture and transatlantic slavery.

The Allan and Carol Murray Collection had previously loaned the artwork to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum from 2002. The support Glasgow Museums received from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Art Fund, Friends of Glasgow Museums and the National Fund for Acquisitions in acquiring this important work ensures it remains on show for free at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow.

Friends of Glasgow Museums, Chair, Liz Dent said: ‘Once again the Friends are delighted to have been able to support the purchase of this notable painting for the collections of Glasgow Museums.’

National Fund for Acquisitions Manager, Dr Hazel Williamson, said: ‘We are delighted that funding from the National Fund for Acquisitions has helped to secure the future of this magnificent portrait as one of the highlights of the collections at Glasgow Museums.’

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