This lot is offered without reserve.
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In 1844 Lord Cockburn, a judge on the South Circuit of the Scottish Bench wrote 'I rose early, I mean at seven this morning and surveyed the beauties of Blairquhan. It deserves its usual praise. A most gentleman-like place rich in all sorts of attractions - of wood, lawn, river, gardens, hill, agriculture and pasture.' He continues '... it proclaims itself the mansion-house of a gentleman and a thing that does not intend itself for be taken for a common affair.' Blairquhan is the masterpiece that was built for Sir David Hunter Blair, 3rd Bart at the commencement of George IV's reign by William Burn. The estate had been purchased for David Hunter Blair in 1798 by his trustees, at first 4,300 acres which included 'The Mansion House, old trees, etc.' and later over 12,000 acres, prompting the reminder 'Your trustees have gone a great length, the price will come to £34,000 and will, my young friend, require attention on your part to pay off the money.'
David Hunter Blair, like the first Earl of Mansfield, was one of fourteen children, his father James Hunter was a scion of the Hunters of Hunterston, his ancestor, also James Hunter, acquired Abbothill, near Ayr in 1569, eleven years after the Royal abbey at Scone had been sacked. In 1770 James Hunter married Jean Blair, daughter and heiress of John Blair of Dunskey, Wigtownshire and Blair was appended to the family name in 1778 when Jean inherited her father's estate. James Hunter died in 1787 aged 44, his outstanding career cut short. He had been elected MP for Edinburgh in 1783, Lord Provost of that city in 1784 and had been created a baronet in 1786 in recognition of his services to Edinburgh, including the active promotion of the famous South Bridge Scheme.
The Old Mansion House at Blairquhan was a castle that dated back to 1346 with considerable and lavish 16th Century additions by John Kennedy, who probably overtaxed his finances as a result and whose heirs lost possession to the Whitefoords in the mid-17th Century. In the 1760s Sir John Whitefoord rented Blairqhuan to the McAdams of Lagwyne and thus their son, the famous road improver John Loudon McAdam, 'Tar McAdam' was brought up there. Sir David Hunter Blair did not move into the old castle. Such was the state of disrepair that he restored a smaller house and billeted his estate workers in the dilapidated castle. In 1813 Sir David married Dorothea Hay McKenzie, a niece of the Marquess of Tweedale and the need for a family home arose. In that year, James Gillespie Graham was asked to suggest how best to restore the castle to a habitable state but a great storm the following year rendered the old castle semi-derelict and plans to restore it could not proceed. In 1818 Robert Wallace, an architect based in London and recently employed at nearby Cloncaird was asked to produce designs, however, again no action followed. It was the early death of Dorothea in 1820 that may have prompted Sir David to seek diversion by building a new castle and in March 1821, months after work had begun, Sir Alex Boswell of Auchinleck laid the foundation stone looking to a future when the family would be 'firmly and permanently established - founded in virtue, decorated in Honour, ornamented with good works and crowned with applause.'
William Burn had studied with his father the Edinburgh builder and then with Robert Smirke in London and Blairquhan was considered one of the most successful early commissions. The castle with its picturesque turreted embattlements combined the elegant interior of a Grecian villa with modern comforts and a 'Tudor' banqueting hall. The tone in the adjoining dining room was set by the robust architecture and Grecian-black hearth introduced by William Burn. The dining furnishings presented the 'massy' classical fashion as promoted around 1800 by connoisseurs such as the well-travelled Thomas Hope, and his architect C.H. Tatham, whose Rome-training was evident in the authorship of Etchings of Ancient ornamental Architecture 1800: and his Etchings representing Fragments of Grecian and Roman Architectural Ornaments, 1806. It cost £16,371 to build, internal furnishings added £3,866 to this figure and considerable further sums were expended planting extensive woodlands, on what had been a barren place in 1798. Sir David planted over 950,000 trees between 1803-1814, including 643,000 larch, 171,000 Scots pine and 63,000 oak, not to mention 5,300 silver fir. The furniture included in this sale that predates Blairquhan probably came from Dunskey, the earlier Hunter Blair seat. Whilst the new castle was largely furnished by Morison and Co. of Ayr. The Blairquhan Archive includes the initial costings and notes taken down by Sir David Hunter Blair while 'in discussion with Morison of Ayr' in his Cloncaird Castle dining-room in 1820. The vast majority of the furniture supplied by James and Mathew Morison is believed to have been delivered to Blairquhan between 1820 and 1825 however, the relationship is known to have continued until 1843 with James Morison acknowledging receipt of payment of a table base (lot 55) in April 1843. Some of the pictures included in the sale were bought by Eliza Hunter Blair, the sister-in-law of Sir David, in Europe between 1834 and 1839.
The 4th Baronet, Sir Edward (d.1896) created the pinetum on the site of the old orchard in the mid 19th century at much the same time as the Pinetum at Scone Palace was planted. His eldest son, the Reverend David, 'Dear old Dunksey' to his comtemporary Oscar Wilde at Magdalen College Oxford, succeeded as 5th Baronet. He had inherited Dunksey, another family property at birth, and became a Benedictine Monk and Abbot of Fort Augustus. Not surprisingly his brother Captain Edward Hunter Blair, became 6th baronet and cut short a promising naval career to manage the Blairquhan Estate. His son, Sir James, served in the First World War in the Seaforth Highlanders, and collected an impressive group of Scottish Colourist Pictures. The late incumbent of the house was his youngest son Jamie 'loyal' Hunter Blair, an immensely popular man who bought the pair of Andrea Locatelli landscapes (lot 150) at Agnews, amongst other old master pictures in the sale. Jamie was very fond of music and the many parties he gave at his beloved home were legendary and enormous fun. He is much missed and would have been amused that Blairquhan was chosen in the 2006 film 'The Queen' in place of Balmoral. The essential character of Blairquhan with its works of art, furniture and family portraits - the core collection inherited and acquired by Sir David and his descendents - remains undisturbed for future generations to admire and enjoy.
James and Mathew Morison of Edinburgh and Ayr
When, in 1813, the London-trained James Morison advertised his 'New Cabinet and Chair Manufactory', in partnership with his father Matthew, in the important trading port of Ayr, he boasted that he had maintained his London 'connections'. The precise nature of these connections is not known, but it may be reasonably assumed that James Morison spent some years training in Edinburgh and London. His well-documented commission for the manufacture of handsome furnishings for Blairquhan, under the careful guidance of Sir David Hunter Blair, includes the agreement signed in December 1823 to supply handsome furniture 'agreeable in shape, size and pattern to that brought from London'. It is interesting to note that the correspondence includes references to 'Dowbiggin pattern' and that some of the furnishing had already been supplied by the firm of Thomas Dowbiggin of Mount Street, London.
The family archive records bills and letters dating from the initial 'costings' taken down on 16th May 1820 by Sir David while in discussion with 'Morison of Ayr'. These calculations include comparisons with costs from 'Trotter', the rival firm of William Trotter & Co. of Edinburgh, the archive also includes bills from James Paton of Ayr, indicating that Sir David was actively commissioning furniture from a variety of cabinet-making firms. The wealth of correspondence in the archive does however indicate that Sir David commissioned James and Mathew Morison to undertake the vast majority of the furnishing at Blairquhan during the years 1823 and 1825. It is assumed that good relations had existed between Sir David and James Morison throughout the commission because in 1842 Sir David ordered a table-frame for the Florentine-style marble slab that he had ordered three years previously in Malta (see lot 55). This appears to be an isolated example of an order placed by Sir David when James Morsion had established the company at 83 George Street, Edinburgh.