Alexander Nasmyth, often considered 'the father of Scottish landscape painting', was one of the chief founders of the Scottish picturesque landscape painting tradition and a leading figure in the golden period of Edinburgh's renaissance. Born in Edinburgh where he studied at the Trustee's Academy, he worked as an assistant to Allan Ramsay in London from 1774 until he settled in Edinburgh as a portrait painter in 1778. Between 1782-1785 he was in Italy where he became interested in landscape painting. On his return to Scotland, he developed a close friendship with Robert Burns which is well documented. By the mid-1790s, he had started a drawing school and painted only landscapes. The following pictures, lots 9-11, have remained in the same house since the date of their completion.
Tantallon Castle stands on a rocky promontory, surrounded on three sides by vertical cliffs thirty metres high with waves from the Forth breaking on the shore below. The singular beauty of the castle is enhanced by the unsual red sandstone of the masonry. Built for William, 1st Earl of Douglas, c.1370, this medieval stronghold was primarily intended as a family seat. In 1406, Prince James Stewart (heir to the Scottish throne) was stranded on the Bass Rock, across the water from Tantallon whilst he awaited safe passage to France, when he returned to Scotland after eighteen years of exile, he may have recalled the strength of Tantallon when he imprisoned the widow of his enemy, Murdoch of Albany, in the eastern tower. Relations between the 'Red Douglases' and the later Stuart kings deteriorated and both Kings James IV and James V, angered by the incessant plotting of the Douglas family against the Scottish throne, unsuccessfully attempted to lay seige and capture Tantallon. An ancient Scottish proverb affirms the castle's legendary strength, 'Ding doon Tantallon - mak a brig to the Bass', in other words, an attempt to capture Tantallon is as foolish as trying to build a bridge to the Bass Rock.
This is the earliest view of Tantallon that Nasmyth is known to have painted, three further views were exhibited or dated 1816, 1826 and 1829.