Scottish Artist's Masterwork from Ayrshire Castle
at 19th-Century Art Sale

A magical painting that hung for many years in Penkill Castle near Girvan in South Ayrshire, is to be offered for sale at Bonhams 19th Century, European, Victorian and British Impressionist Art Sale in London on 20 February. The Norns Watering the Tree of Life by William Scott is estimated at £60,000-80,000.

Dated 1876, the painting depicts the Norns – the three Nordic goddesses who, as dispensers of fate, represented the past, present and future. They were charged with tending Yggdrasill, a mighty ash tree that supported the whole universe. Scott was fascinated by ancient legends and particularly drawn to the Nordic myths.

The work's connection with Penkill Castle was through Alice Boyd, Scott's pupil, muse, and lover whose brother Spencer was the 14th laird. On Spencer's premature death Alice, who never married, became the 15th laird and her relationship with Scott deepened. The artist embarked on a project to decorate the walls of the staircase in the castle's tower with scenes from The King's Quair said to have been written by James I of Scotland. Scott, his wife and Alice formed an amiable ménage à trois spending the winter months in London and summer at Penkill, where The Norns Watering the Tree of Life hung above the fireplace in the main hall.

When Alice died in 1897, Penkill passed through the hands of relatives, the last of whom feel victim to a dishonest caretaker, Willie Hume, who stole and sold items from the house. One day he attempted to remove a portrait by Scott of Alice and her brother. The artist had written on the frame "Move not this picture, Let it be, For love of those in effigy." Hume took the work nonetheless and that evening died of heart failure. The castle and its contents were put on the market shortly afterwards and were bought by an American lawyer. It seems that The Norns Watering the Tree of Life stayed in the castle until the contents were sold at auction in 1996 when the present owner acquired the work.

Bonhams director of 19th Century European, Victorian and British Impressionist Art Charles O'Brien said: "This wonderful work was probably Scott's last significant freestanding painting and he chose a subject close to his heart. At Penkill, he and Alice welcomed the cream of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his sister Christina, William Morris and Arthur Hughes, and Scott certainly deserves his place among that distinguished company."

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