William Douglas (British, 1780-1832) Two boys with golf clubs and a dog on Old Musselburgh Links 33.5 x 41 cm. (13 3/16 x 16 1/8 in.)

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Lot 9
William Douglas
(British, 1780-1832)
Two boys with golf clubs and a dog on Old Musselburgh Links 33.5 x 41 cm. (13 3/16 x 16 1/8 in.)

Sold for £ 85,250 (US$ 117,159) inc. premium


8 Dec 2011, 14:00 GMT


William Douglas (British, 1780-1832)
Two boys with golf clubs and a dog on Old Musselburgh Links
signed and dated 'W. Douglas/1809' (lower right)
33.5 x 41 cm. (13 3/16 x 16 1/8 in.)


  • The watercolour depicts two boys playing golf on the Old Links of Musselburgh, some six miles east of Edinburgh. This is the oldest operational golf course on earth, where the game has been played continuously for not less than 550 years. Indeed, Leith Links, Bruntsfield Links and Musselburgh are the three contenders for the original playing ground when the game of golf began to be played in Scotland, probably in the mid-14th century.

    In the middle distance can be seen the great sand bunker, still known as Pandemonium. Also visible is the public house now known as Mrs Forman's, where golfers paused for liquid refreshment. Behind the boys are the Prestonpans potteries, the village of Aberlady, the promontory of Kilspindie and Gullane Hill, while in the background the distinctive conical shape of Berwick Law is clearly seen.

    The boys are dressed in short blue jackets, white ruffled shirts, cream coloured trousers and shoes. The hats of both are at their feet: the elder boy's is a topper, while the younger's is soft. Their appearance is typical of children of the gentry in the early 19th century. Their golf clubs are also characteristic of the era. Both have leather grips and exhibit wooden shafts, probably of flexible ash or hazel. These are attached by whipping to a hardwood clubhead, probably beech or holly. The design and dimensions of the clubs indicate that they are of the type then called the 'playclub' - known in modern times as the 'driver'.

    The golf ball depicted is a 'feathery'. The ancestor of the modern ball, the feathery was produced by a time-consuming process requiring considerable expertise. Craftsmen vied with each other for contracts from the richest patrons of the game, and were often scathing about their competitors' work. To produce a feathery, a piece of leather was cut into three pieces, softened with alum and water, and then sewn together leaving a small hole. Through this, enough feathers to fill a top hat were pressed, until the ball was hard as a stone. The hole was then stitched up and the ball given three coats of paint before being sold. Each craftsman could only produce three or four featheries per day, with the result that each cost as much as 4 shillings. This was a considerable expense in the 19th century, and resulted in amateur golf being largely restricted to the social class to which the boys belong. The feathery was not a durable ball and the boys might carry 4-6 for their round. They could, however, be hit for up to 250 yards.

    The golf hole depicted seems substantially larger than the present-day standard. However, this may not be artistic license as standardisation of hole size had not arrived by 1809 and, when it came, it was from the links depicted in this drawing. In 1829, the Musselburgh Golf Club invented a hole-cutter which was 41/4 inches in diameter. This found favour with the game's governing body, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, and was adopted as a worldwide standard in 1891.

    It is conjectured that the boys were sons of Captain Andrew Wauchope of Niddrie, born c.1736, who had served with the First Regiment of Dragoon Guards and fought in the battle of Minden in1759. In 1776, Andrew Wauchope married Alicia, daughter of William Baird of Newbyth and sister of the celebrated Sir David Baird, the hero of Seringapatam in 1799. There were nine children of this marriage, five boys and four girls. The eldest, Andrew, was killed in 1813 at the Battle of the Pyrenees while in command of the 20th Regiment of Foot. The second son, William, succeeded to the property in 1817 when Andrew Wauchope resigned it, retaining for himself the liferent.

    The third son, Robert, later a Vice-Admiral of the Royal Navy, was also depicted by William Douglas as a golfer, wearing almost identical clothes to those worn in this picture. He was painted not at Musselburgh but on his father's estate of Niddrie, with the house of Niddrie Marischal in the middle distance and Arthur's Seat and Salisbury crags in the background. This watercolour, 29.5 x 23cm, realised a hammer price of £56,000 at auction in January 2004.

    The names of the two youngest sons of Andrew Wauchope are presently unknown. He himself lived to a good old age, alluded to by Sir Walter Scott in the ballad Carle, Now The Kings's Come, written for the state visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822, when Wauchope of Niddrie was in his 80s. Wrote Scott:

    Come, stately Niddrie, auld and true,
    Girt with the sword that Minden knew;
    We have owre few sic lairds as you,
    Carle, now the King 's come...

    Golf has long been encouraged among the young in Scotland, the optimal time to take it up being the age of the boys depicted here. At Gullane, a few miles along the coast from Musselburgh, there is a short children's course. On its 1st Tee, a stern notice warns:
    Adults may only play on this golf course - if accompanied by a Child
    This rare watercolour appears historically accurate, portraying the great game that the County of East Lothian had given to Scotland and which Scotland, in turn, would give to the world.

    We are grateful to Professor David Purdie MDFRCP Edin. FSA Scot, author of The Greatest Game- The Ancyent & Healthfulle Exercyse of the Golff, for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

    Douglas was a landscape, animal and miniature painter to the Edinburgh middle classes and Scottish Lowland aristocracy, completing commissions for the 9th Earl of Dalhousie among others. He was appointed Miniature Painter in Scotland to HRH Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg in 1817, and exhibited at the RA 1818-1826

Saleroom notices

  • PROVENANCE: Property of Adelina Baird Thence by descent to John Whitaker Bequeathed by the above to the present owner
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