The Black Watch Museum has loaded 2 items from the collection to the V&A Dundee for the new Tartan exhibition which opens on 1 April, marking the V&A’s fifth year in Dundee.
The exhibition, which aims to take a radical new look at the instantly recognisable textile and pattern, will feature two items from The Black Watch Museum’s collection, including a mug from the early 19th Century and a framed coloured print ‘Les Grapilleurs’ believed to be over 200 years old.
The Museum shares the story of The Black Watch’s regimental history, spanning over almost three centuries. The Black Watch tartan plays an integral part of the Regiment’s history, and it is believed that the name of the Regiment was inspired by the dark colour of the tartan worn by the soldiers and their original role to ‘watch’ over the Highlands.
The first loaned item is a tall ceramic mug, titled ‘An old performer playing on a new instrument, or one of the 42nd touching the Invincible’. Originally drawn by artist S.W Fores around 1803, it is decorated with a caricature that depicts a soldier of the 42nd Black Watch Regiment carrying Napoleon under his arm like a set of bagpipes. The mug commemorates the 1801 British victory over the French at Alexandria and is a key example of tartan as propaganda.
The second loaned item is the framed coloured print, ‘Les Grapilleurs’, which will be displayed in the ‘Tartan and Identity’ section of the exhibition. It shows a large Scottish soldier dressed in a feather bonnet and kilt, eating grapes with one hand and holding the edges of his kilt up with the other hand to cradle more grapes. In the background, three other soldiers can be seen picking and eating grapes from the vineyard. The presence of kilted regiments in Paris following the Napoleonic Wars sparked a French fascination for tartan and kilts. This satirical print pokes fun at the novelty of Highland dress and addresses the eroticised curiosity of what a Scotsman hides beneath his kilt, with the humorous innuendo of the soldier grappling with a bunch of grapes.
Fiona Connah, Curator at The Black Watch Castle and Museum, said: “At The Black Watch Castle and Museum, we share the story of The Black Watch Regiment, the oldest Highland Regiment in Scotland, whose tartan-kilted uniform is recognised across the globe. Therefore, we were delighted to be asked by V&A Dundee to loan these interesting items from our collection and to contribute to such a significant exhibition. Both the mug and the print are popular with our visitors, who are simultaneously amused and fascinated by these depictions of the Highland soldier.”
James Wylie, Assistant Curator at V&A Dundee, said: “We are delighted The Black Watch Castle and Museum have loaned to V&A Dundee’s Tartan exhibition. The Black Watch Regiment has played an integral role in popularising tartan. Apart from red Royal Stewart, the dark blue and green Government set of The Black Watch is arguably the most widely recognised tartan pattern and is frequently deployed in contemporary fashion.
“The mug on loan commemorating the 1801 British victory over the French at Alexandria depicts a soldier of the 42nd Black Watch Regiment and is a key example of tartan as propaganda. The regiment famously captured the regimental standard of Emperor Napoleon’s elite Imperial Guard during the battle. Such exploits built the mythos surrounding the Highland Regiments and furthered tartan as a symbol of British military power. By the 19th Century, the image of the Highland soldier was consolidated as a brand icon of Scotland and Britain’s global influence.”
To explore the history of The Black Watch, book your all-day access ticket here:
To find out more about the Tartan exhibition at the V&A Dundee visit: https://www.vam.ac.uk/dundee