• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7555

    Scottish Art The Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh

    23 October 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 46

    William Skeoch Cumming (1864-1929)

    The Gordon Highlanders: Daybreak in the trenches

    Price Realised  

    William Skeoch Cumming (1864-1929)
    The Gordon Highlanders: Daybreak in the trenches
    signed and dated 'Skeoch Cumming/1886[?]' (lower right)
    pencil and watercolour, heightened with touches of bodycolour
    24 x 41 in. (61 x 104.2 cm.)


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    The subject of this evocative picture is not entirely clear, but it almost certainly represents an episode during the Second Afghan War of 1878-80. Since it forms a pendant to the act of bravery shown in lot 47, it is possible that this painting shows another act of courage on the part of the Gordon Highlanders during this conflict. The combination of exhausted soldiers, their vigilant leader, and the dawn breaking over the distant mountains suggests that the subject may be Major George Stuart White's defence of a ridge during the Battle of Charasiah on 6 October 1879. Second-in-Command of the Gordon Highlanders, he led his men to attack a strongly-fortified ridge, where the defenders outnumbered the Highlanders eight to one. Hoping to inspire his already exhausted men, Major White ran forward into battle alone, armed with a rifle, and managed to kill the defenders' leader. The Gordon Highlanders took the ridge and Major White reported to his superior, Major-General Sir Frederick Roberts, that 'I have secured this position and 12 Afghan guns and will hold it all night.' The present painting may therefore show the Gordon Highlanders at the end of their night holding the ridge; if so, the figure in the red cape may be Major White, continuing to inspire his men. As recognition of his courage and leadership, Major White was awarded the Victoria Cross, which is now on view in the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen. (M. Tillotson, 'Show of Highland bravery in an Afghan war', The Times, 2 April 2002)

    For another work by the artist depicting members of the Gordon Highlanders see lot 47.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Pre-Lot Text

    PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN REMOVED FROM A SCOTTISH HOUSE (LOTS 46 & 47)