National Museums Scotland buys rare ivories

National Museums Scotland has acquired a rare group of five ivories by the celebrated Huguenot carver David Le Marchand (1674-1726). The set – which comprises four medallions and a miniature bust – was commissioned by the Mackenzie family, and is a significant survival of Le Marchand’s short time in Scotland.

An ivory by Huguenot carver David Le Marchand
Curator, Lydia Messerschmidt with one of the David Le Marchand Ivories.

The ivories have remained in the Mackenzie family for over 300 years, and were acquired from John Ruaridh Grant Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Cromartie and the Chief of Clan Mackenzie, who wished for them to remain in Scotland. They were acquired with support from both the Art Fund – the national fundraising charity for art – and the National Museums Scotland Charitable Trust.

Le Marchand fled his native France as a consequence of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 which saw the ensuing persecution of French Protestants. He settled in Edinburgh in 1696 and was given a licence to practise the art of ivory cutting on condition that he trained Scottish apprentices in the craft.

Few ivories are known to have been carved by him before he moved to London in 1700, where he was commissioned to carve the portraits of aristocrats, royalty and notable figures – including Queen Anne, George I, Samuel Pepys, Sir Isaac Newton and John Locke. Le Marchand’s works were highly prized for his consummate skill in rendering likenesses, and for the sheer expense of the ivory that he chose as his specialist material.

The ivories will go on display in one of ten new galleries opening next summer at the National Museum of Scotland. Showcasing over 3,000 objects, these innovative new galleries will explore the creativity of applied arts, fashion and design and the excitement of scientific discovery and invention.

A portrait medallion showing Sir James Mackenzie of Royston is dated 1696, the year Le Marchand arrived in Scotland, suggesting that the ivories are likely to be the very first that he carved in Britain.

The other three medallions depict George Mackenzie, 1st Earl of Cromartie (1630-1714); Lady Margaret Mackenzie of Rosehaugh (1654-1713) and George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh (1686-1707). The bust depicts John Mackenzie, 2nd Earl of Cromartie (1656-1731).

James Robinson, Keeper of Art and Design at National Museums Scotland, said, “We are delighted to have acquired a unified set of works by David Le Marchand, with a matchless Scottish family provenance. Few other works by him are known from this period, and both their uninterrupted family provenance and their artistic quality will make them a particular highlight of our new Art and Design galleries.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said, “This interesting group of ivories, with its excellent provenance and rich object biographies, is an ideal fit for National Museums Scotland particularly given the Museum’s interest in Scottish identity and its relationship with the rest of the world. Scotland now has a meaningful presence of works by Le Marchand, which will appeal to scholars, students, artists and families alike. I look forward to seeing them in the new galleries.”

The ivories will go on display in summer 2016 in Art of Living, a gallery containing many of National Museums Scotland’s greatest works of art: expressions of beauty and skill, taste and learning, power and devotion. Art of Living is one of four new Art and Design galleries to open at the National Museum of Scotland next summer.

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