This pair of pictures combines a decorative aesthetic with a commitment to the accurate scientific observation of birds in their natural habitat; details of plumage and movement are carefully recorded. It seems likely that each picture depicts a specific location, although only that in the latter picture has been identified.
The Bass Rock, situated in the Firth of Forth, two miles east of North Berwick and one mile off the mainland, is a monumental volcanic (trachyte) plug, rising 313 feet. Three sides of the The Bass are sheer cliff, with a gentler slope on the fourth (south) side. On this lower promontory stand the ruins of a castle, dating from at least 1405, which has played a notable part in Scottish history as the stronghold of the Lauders of The Bass. In 1406 King Robert III of Scotland sent his second son, James, the future King James I of England, to the island to wait until a vessel could be found to take him to France, where he would be protected against the intrigues of his uncle, Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, who had designs on the Scottish throne. In addition to its historical significance, The Bass Rock has long been recognised as being of zoological importance, as the largest single rock gannetry in the world. It hosts at least 40,000 pairs of gannets, which cover The Bass so densely as to make large sections of the island appear white when seen from the mainland. The first mention of the gannets occurs in a document sent to the Vatican Council in Rome, detailing a dispute between the Laird of The Bass and the Cistercian Nuns at North Berwick, who were concerned that the tithe they received on each barrel of fat produced from the slaughtered birds at the autumn cull was under threat.
The core of the collections at Swinton was built up by successive generations of the Danby family, who had lived at Swinton since 1695. The 1st Lord Masham bought the house and much of its contents in 1882 and expanded the collection with magnificent pictures and several pieces of French furniture and objets d'art in the gout Rothschild. Buying in particular from the dealer Davis of Pall Mall, Masham was also advised by the legendary Sir J.C. Robinson, first Curator of the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.