The best of the Broomhall House Collection

Broomhall House sits at the heart of Scottish history as the family home of the descendants of 14th-century king and warrior statesman, Robert the Bruce. Over the centuries, his descendants have continued to act as leaders and pioneers, serving as ambassadors, statesmen, explorers, inventors and entrepreneurs. Many of them had the foresight and discipline to record their actions and discoveries in watercolour, leaving behind an extraordinary visual legacy of international importance. We’ve been working to digitise a number of albums and loose sketches from the Broomhall House Collection, and published some 650 images to the website this month. Lord Bruce introduces a few of the highlights below.

Fennec (Fox)

The Fennec is one of many animals and plants that appear in James Bruce of Kinnaird’s portfolio of watercolour sketches compiled during his North African expedition. Bruce discovered the source of the Nile in 1770 as well as at least six botanical specimens which he presented to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

St Petersburg

This charming drawing of a Russian fairground is from the sketchbook of Mary Louisa Lambton, who accompanied her father Lord Durham, the British ambassador to Russia (1835–1837). Durham was a radical Whig politician who was responsible for promoting the Great Reform Act in 1832 which transformed parliamentary democracy in Britain.

Stornoway House, St James’s

This painting shows a view of Green Park from Stornoway House, the London home of the Lambton family, by the prolific watercolour artist William Leighton Leitch. Leitch served as drawing tutor to Queen Victoria. He also taught Mary Louisa Lambton who married James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, in 1846. Between 1848 and 1863 she accompanied her husband to Canada and India and created a unique record of their colonial life in pencil and watercolour.

A Japanese funeral

This was painted in 1858 by Captain Charles Bedwell RN, the official artist accompanying Lord Elgin’s diplomatic mission to China and Japan. Bedwell sketched furiously in Shanghai, Canton (Guangzhou), Tientsin (Tianjin), Hong Kong, Nagasaki, Shimoda, and Edo (Tokyo), recording the mid 19th-century encounter of Europeans and the Far East. Within a decade, however, the detailed work of photographers such as Felice Beato and John Thomson had begun to eclipse watercolour as the default medium of overseas travel.

View the Broomhall House watercolours here. For more information about the house and its history visit the Broomhall website: