A Tale of Two Paintings


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the American Great Depression: an opportune time for any collector with an eye for excellence, but it was also a time when there was little enough money for a young couple to indulge their passion for well made things of interest.

My parents were A. Garrard and Margaret Macleod. They had moved to New York City in 1930 where my father, a promising young cardiologist, had secured a position at the “heart station,” a cardiac research unit at the Rockefeller Institute. Before my brothers and I began to appear in 1934, my parents spent many happy hours browsing through antique and junk shops in the great city looking for bargains. They both had excellent taste in things decorative and artistic, and a shared interest in the curious human need to fashion useful and beautiful things. Over the years they acquired a number of interesting items. These two watercolors by a noted Scottish landscape artist of the middle 19th century illustrate their good luck, and the importance of good education as a prerequisite for recognizing Dame Fortune without proper introduction.

Here is the story as my father told it to me:

On his walk from the elevated train stop to work (or maybe on his way home from work), he noticed a couple of nice gilded picture frames leaning against a trash can in an alley. He thought, “Hmmm, somebody has thrown out some really quite nice frames. We could use them for pictures for our apartment.” Remember, this was the Great Depression. Nobody had any money and “things” were not of great value. Even people who had been well-off were now in trying circumstances. So, father thought that somebody had simply thrown the frames away, although he noticed that they were carefully leaned against the trash cans, not broken up. So, father gathered up the frames and was about to get on toward work. Then he noticed a couple of rolls of paper in the trash can. Upon extraction and unfurling, the rolls of paper revealed themselves to be watercolor landscapes by Sam Bough (1822–1878). These were obviously the paintings that had originally been in the discovered frames; again, they were carefully rolled up, not destroyed, left perhaps by someone who hoped they would somehow survive. Father had the paintings restored to their original frames and they hung in the apartments in New York City and the homes on Stuart Avenue and Monroe Street in Kalamazoo, Michigan until my parents died, my father in 1971 and mother in 1984. I inherited the pictures when my brothers and I divided up the estate following mother’s death.

The old matting and backing for the pictures had become decrepit to the point of crumbling, although the frames themselves are still in reasonably good shape. So I have reframed the pictures in modern acid-free matting and backing. I have not done much to the frames, since I like the idea that they are pretty much as my father found them, orphaned so many years ago.

The paintings themselves were both done in 1870, so at this writing they are now 135 years old. Bough painted both scenes on 14×20 (approximately) rag paper. Both are Scottish islands landscapes, perhaps painted in roughly the same location. Bough wrote “Iona 1870” on one of the paintings before his signature. On the back of this painting are the numbers 9144/5; this may be a gallery or dealer catalog number, I’m not sure. Both paintings are signed “Sam Bough 1870.” Iona is a small island southwest of the Island of Mull off the west coast of Scotland. Iona is near Fingal’s Cave, about which Felix Mendelssohn wrote a famous orchestral piece following a visit there in August, 1829. I like to play Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave) while looking at the pictures. The music and the pictures complement one another in their moodiness and turbulence, with moments of sunshine.

Garrard Davis Macleod, May, 2005

Sam Bough Painting

Sam Bough Painting

Sam Bough Painting

Sam Bough Painting


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