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George H. McCord

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George Herbert McCord (1848-1909). “Skibo Seascape,” 1899, oil on canvas, 24 x 34. Magnificent gold leaf ribbon-band design antique frame 34 x 44. 


Curator's Comments:

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie wanted a castle in Scotland for his late-in-life bride to summer in. But the world's richest man was forced to delay his nuptials until his mother passed away in 1886. Then the 51-year-old Carnegie married Louise Whitfield, who was 21 years his junior.  In 1897, the couple had their only child, a daughter, adding thrust to his castle intentions. Louise found Scotland enjoyable, and the Carnegies began spending several months there each summer. They rented Cluny Castle in the central highlands, the ancestral home of Clan MacPherson, but Carnegie's offers to purchase were refused. He then decided to explore the remote area that extended north of Inverness along the North Sea. The almost 30,000-acre estate along the firth of Dornoch's north shore was first named (1275) as the castle of "Schytherbolle," which in Celtic translates as "place of peace." It later took the Norse name, Skibo, meaning "ship-shaped place." When Carnegie rode up Skibo's long entrance lane, as his diary records, it was love at first sight. The long swath of fertile, south-facing fields turns to gorse and broom as it fringes the northern shore of Dornoch Firth, which, though miles wide when the tide is in, retreats into a narrow channel twice each day. And just as he ordered paintings for Cluny, he did the same for Skibo, after Louise and he took up residence in May 1899. Guests at Skibo ranged from Mark Twain to Booker T. Washington, and included George Herbert McCord, as Louise was to write in her daybook.


McCord is generally thought of as a second-generation Hudson River school artist. But he was daring as a plein air landscape painter--one of the first to record early Florida scenes. The Santa Fe railroad invited McCord, along with selected other American artists, to paint the Grand Canyon. Continuing to paint in Europe, he is best known for his magnificent final paintings of Venice. Certainly painting for Carnegie, fellow Scot McCord aimed for a masterpiece and created one in his Skibo seascape. Just how his painting came to America is unknown, but after the war, Louise is known to have shipped pieces from Skibo to the Carnegie mansion on New York's Fifth Avenue at 90th street, where she continued to live until her death in 1946. The building is now the Cooper Hewitt Design museum, a part of the Smithsonian, and the surrounding neighborhood of Manhattan's Upper Eastside is called Carnegie Hill. 

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