Carved Wood Fish Models
Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, England
This catalogue is the result of almost two years research into a group of carved wood fish models, which we believe may have been executed by one particular studi0 beginning towards the end of the nineteenth century and continuing for about forty years.
In the course of our business we have frequently bought and sold carved wood fish models, but until recently they have, sadly, often been removed from their boards and regarded simply as interior decoration, instead of works of art in their own right. Not only are the carvings themselves of interest, but also the rivers in which the fish were caught and the anglers concerned.
We have seen many different styles of carved wood fish trophies, but there appear to be three main British types. 1: those from P. D. Malloch of Perth; 2: those from Hardy Bros.; and 3: the most prolific type of all, those that have the stencilled marks of Farlow & Co., as well as a few from Forrest of Kelso, Holbrow of London, the taxidermists Rowland Ward, and many like them that bear no mark or label at all. From the style of carving and painting it seems possible that this third group may all have come from the same studio.
The majority of models that we have seen of this last type are of Atlantic salmon, and date from just after the turn of the century to the late 1920s. The fish are carved in half-section, with the dorsal, adipose and anal fins as part of the silhouette and the pectoral and ventral fins applied separately. These are finely worked, especially the tails and dorsal fins which are "combed" and moulded, suggesting power and movement. As time went on the models became more rounded and from about 1920 onwards the eye began to be carved out in semi-relief. The decoration of these salmon appears to have remained virtually the same throughout the time they were produced. The artist mainly used a palette of predominantly greyish blue, with a dark head and back shading down through paler tones to a cream-coloured belly, and with vertical rows of thick white crescent-shaped scales. The eye resembles a teardrop within a defined circle. Trout of this type that we have seen appear to be similarly modelled, but the decoration does not have the heavy crescent scaling and is possibly more realistic in colour. The eye however, is still painted in the same way. There is also a small group of late 19th century salmon of this type, which are decorated in the same manner as the later ones, but the modelling is somewhat less sophisticated, although there is much the same movement in the tails and dorsal fins. The gill covers, however, are not carved out and the pectoral and ventral fins are also painted on, not carved and applied.
Our research into the carvers and decorators of wood fish models began in earnest when we acquired a model of a 50 lb. salmon dated 1892, which had been killed by Earl Winterton. A fish answering to this description is mentioned by Augustus Grimble in The Salmon Rivers of Scotland, as being one of a group of models of large fish that hung in the smoking room at Gordon Castle, Fochabers, on the River Spey. He also mentioned that they were the work of a carpenter named John Tully and a painter named Miss Russell. Gordon Castle had been the Scottish seat of the Dukes of Richmond and Gordon and we were able to ascertain that John Tully had eventually become Clerk of Works at Gordon Castle and Miss Russell had become his wife. There were still people living in Fochabers who remembered him or had been told about him. We were shown fish that they understood had been carved by John Tully and decorated by his wife Isabella (Dhuie) Russell. These were not like the Winterton fish, but of the same type of carving and decoration as those that sometimes have Farlow's trade stencil. A further breakthrough came when we were shown a copy of John Tully's obituary, which had appeared in The Banffshire Journal of 27th October 1931. This obituary not only stated that there had been a studio in Fochabers, producing wood fish models carved by John Tully and painted by his wife, but that it had been started by Mrs. Tully's father, John Russell.
The Department of Libraries in Elgin found two obituaries for John Russell, giving his date of death as May 1893. One of them stated that there had been two models of a 50 lb. Spey salmon in his studio the previous winter and that he was a carver, as well as a painter. It seemed reasonable, therefore, to suppose that our model might be one of these. According to one of the obituaries, the work of the studio was to be carried on by two of John Russell's children, his son James and a daughter, Miss Russell. However, by the time Augustus Grimble came to publish the first edition of The Salmon Rivers of Scotland, vol. II, in 1900, it would appear that John Tully and Miss Russell were responsible for the carving and decorating of models.
Unless any records come to light we will never know for certain that fish of the Farlow type were by John Tully and his wife, or that the earlier ones were by John Russell. To our knowledge there are no signed examples on which to base a definite opinion. Apart from Grimble, all the information we have is either verbal, or contained in the obituaries, and we have been unable to find contemporary illustrations of models stating that they were the work of a specific artist. The only illustration we can find is one reproduced in vol. II of the first edition of Grimble's book, which he used to illustrate how well the models were done. It is not, however, listed by him as a Gordon Castle fish, it was killed at Aikenway. The fish is not on a board, no date is given and it does not appear to resemble any models we have seen.
Whether it was Farlow's who started the vogue for carved wood fish models, or whether the idea evolved from Gordon Castle, or some other place, we may never know. Certainly carved wood fish models were being advertised in Farlow's catalogues as early as 1891, without boards. The earliest advertisement we have seen of a fish on a board, is in a copy of their catalogue for 1908, although models marked by Farlow's and mounted on boards are known dating from as early as 1897. They appear to have continued to use the same illustration at least until 1940, nine years after John Tully's death. This assumes, if indeed they were by the Tullys, that Isabella found another carver and we have seen at least one model, believed to have been decorated by her, which was carved after John Tully's death.
What we do know is that according to obituaries there was a studio at Fochabers, which was begun by John Russell and continued by John and Isabella Tully, that produced many hundreds of carved wood fish models. We have been told, by at least one person, that a fish carved for them was the work of John Tully and we have been shown others by people who say they understood them to be by him. In our opinion these models were carved and decorated by the same person, or persons, who executed models bearing Farlow's stencil. This is, however, only our opinion and should not be taken as fact. Until further evidence, or a signed example, comes to light it cannot be stated categorically that the early Gordon Castle fish were the work of John Russell, or that the so-called "Farlow types" were carved and painted by John and Isabella Tully. All we can do is put forward our ideas in the light of the information we have at present.THE GORDON CASTLE CONNECTION
Every autumn the Duke of Richmond and Gordon arrived at his Scottish seat, Gordon Castle, Fochabers, with a large retinue. The nets came off the river on 26th August, and during the latter part of the 19th century the Gordon Castle water of the River Spey was considered the finest and most productive stretch in Scotland. Fishing, with fly only, usually began on 1st September, continuing until the season closed on 15th October. Augustus Grimble in The Salmon Rivers of Scotland, writes: "The ambition of every guest at Gordon Castle is "to get into the smoking-room," for there on the walls are hung casts or models of all fish of forty pounds or over, together with the date, the pool, and the name of the lucky captor... These models of big fish are very cleverly done; one John Tully, carpenter, cuts out the wooden patterns, which are afterwards painted in a most life-like manner by Miss Russell, both artists residing at Fochabers: ' Grimble describes nine such fish, dated between 1888 and 1897, together with one of 60 lbs taken in the Upper Bulwark net on 26th August 1894, but we have only been able to trace two models that answer to his descriptions. One is of the 50 lb. salmon killed by Earl Winterton in the Rock Pool on 11th October 1892 and the other is of the 60 lb. salmon from the Upper Bulwark net, which is in the museum at the Tugnet Salmon Fishing Station, Speymouth. This has been restored and the date reads 21st August 1894, not 26th August as recorded by Grimble.
It would appear that at least some of the Gordon Castle fish may have been mounted on boards and enclosed within moulded frames. The Winterton fish is so framed and mounted, as is the model of the 60 lb. fish in the Tugnet, as well as one of a 32 lb. salmon, probably a first fish, killed by Ivy Gordon Lennox in 1903. In the 3rd edition of his book (1913), Grimble adds a footnote that "there are now many other names to be added to this list," so the tradition of the "smoking room" fish would appear to have continued into the 20th century. Nobody seems to know whereabouts in the castle the smoking room was located, it may have been the library, but within living memory large fish trophies were hanging in one of the corridors. Gordon Castle was sold just before the Second World War and the contents dispersed.BIOGRAPHIES
John Bucknell Russell (1819/20 - 1893)
According to obituaries in The Banffshire Journal and Elgin Courant, 9th May, 1893, he was born in Edinburgh and as a child went north with his parents to Aberdeen, where he served his apprenticeship as a house painter, but shortly afterwards became known as an artist. A Roman Catholic, one of his earliest works was an altar-piece in St. Mary's Chapel, Huntly Street, Aberdeen. He also executed fresco paintings at Presholme, nr. Elgin, as well as work at Roman Catholic chapels in Buckie and Inverness. The Banffshire Journal records that "Early in his career he commenced fish painting, for which he afterwards became famous, being universally recognised as second to none in that particular line." At some time he returned to live in Edinburgh for a number of years where, according to The Banffshire Journal, he repeatedly exhibited pictures at The Royal Scottish Academy, including one called "The Ascension." He was probably the John Russell and John B. Russell who exhibited pictures at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin in 1871 and 1875.
He appears to have gone to Fochabers, circa 1873/76, and set up a studio. "His versatile genius found equal scope in the production of fish, game, etc, etc, for which he latterly became quite famous, enjoying the patronage of many of the nobility and gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, and even further, during the twenty years of his residence in Fochabers. So realistic were his models of salmon that it was impossible to distinguish them from the original. His sketches of the beautiful scenery around Fochabers are well known, and are widespread." (Elgin Courant, 9th May 1893). According to the Banffshire Journal, however, John Russell had only come to Fochabers "some seventeen years ago."
At one time during the past winter, a visitor to the studio would have discovered several very important fish paintings, including two models of a 50 lb. Spey salmon, a 51 lb. Tweed salmon, numerous English trout, and several river trout from San Francisco. Versatile in his pursuits, Mr. Russell was an adept at wood-carving; a specimen of his work may be seen in the beautifully carved altar rails at Presholme." (Banffshire Journal). Further reference to John Russell was made in John Tully's obituary in the same newspaper, 27th October 1931: "Mr. Russell was an artist of distinguished abilities and pictures by him of Spey salmon, of the Castle dogs, or of game, in all of which he specialised, with the happiest results, are the valued possessions of many people to-day." According to his obituaries, Russell's last important work was eleven large panels of scenes from Aesop's Fables, commissioned by Lord Tweedmouth for his daughter, the Countess of Aberdeen, at Haddo House.
John Russell was apparently twice married and survived by five sons and three daughters; at least three of them followed their father and became professional artists: Charles Russell (1852-1910), who lived in Dublin, was a member of the R.H.A. where he exhibited his first picture in 1869 and then regularly, portraits and landscapes, from 1878-1910; James A. Russell who exhibited at the R.H.A. in 1886 and Isabella Russell, who exhibited at the R.H.A. in 1894 and 1897 and was probably the Isabella F. Russell who exhibited a picture "Good Fruits" in 1882. She was also known as Dhuie, a diminutive of the Gaelic "dhu," dark or black.
In John Russell's obituary in the Banffshire Journal it reads: "While under his father's training Mr. James Russell has already come to the front, having had pictures hung both in Dublin and Manchester. His father's mantle seems to have fallen upon him, in respect of fish painting in which he is quite an adept. Miss Russell has made a name for herself chiefly by pictures of flowers and fruit. We understand that the work of the studio will be carried on by the latter two members of the family." John Russell died on Thursday, 4th May 1893 and was buried in Bellie churchyard, Fochabers, in a lair owned by his son, James.John Tully (1862-1931)
Isabella (Dhuie) Tully, nee Russell (?1864-1950)
John Tully was born on 2nd January 1862, the eldest son of Thomas Tully of Fochabers and his wife, Anne Brand. Thomas Tully was a builder's carpenter and John learned the skills of the business in his father's shop. In 1880 at the age of 18, he entered employment at Gordon Castle, where he remained for almost fifty years, starting in the carpenter's shop and finally becoming Clerk of Works.
Somewhere about the years 1905/06 John Tully married John Russell's daughter Isabella (Dhuie). To begin with, it is said, they lived at the Russell home, Spey Cottage (now demolished), which was in West Street. Late in 1914 they moved to Speyview, West Street (now Abbeyfield Nursing Home), which had been built for John Tully by the 7th Duke of Richmond. There was a separate studio opposite, which is now called Myrtle Cottage.
For more than fifty years John Tully was the Fochabers correspondent of The Banffshire Journal, so it is reasonable to assume that it was he who wrote the paper's obituary of John Russell in 1893. His own obituary in the same paper, published Tuesday, October 27th, 1931 was a long and fulsome one and spoke at length of his work and loyalty, both to the Gordon Lennox family and to the town of Fochabers. It also contained the following paragraph: "It is hardly too much to say that in one sphere the name of Mr. Tully - and of his wife - became known throughout the world. That was in the work of modelling fish, a department of artistic labour that made Fochabers and its Studio household words among anglers in the most distant parts. It was begun by Mr. Russell, continued by his gifted daughter and her husband, and throughout the passing years there has been an output of fish models that have run into many hundreds. It represents work of delicacy and extreme nicety. The model has to be an exact replica of the fish, every dimension being drawn to scale, the depth and length being measured with the utmost exactitude, and painted in its natural colours. The modelling was the work of Mr. Tully, while Mrs. Tully, the artist daughter of an artist father, was responsible for the painting ... All the fish caught on the Gordon Castle sections of the Spey of over 40 lbs have been so modelled as also have been the first fish caught in the river, no matter what their weight, by members of the family, and all these, many of them connected with interesting experiences and associated with well-known names, find a treasured place in the Castle. Many hundreds of models were made by Mr. Tully whose expertness in the work became so great and his knowledge of fish so detailed that he could make, if occasion needed, an exact model, true to size in every way, of say a 30 lb. Spey fish, without having been provided with individual measurements, his skill and exactitude being alike remarkable. Orders for models came from all over England and Scotland. The measurements of a salmon came from Japan, there were fish from Labrador, there were humpbacks from America, tyee and sock-eyes from British Columbia, and there were mahseer from India, some blue, some brown, some salmon-coloured, one of them to the order of an Indian Rajah. There have been fish from Norway and Sweden, there have been not a few from India, there have been trout from South Africa, there have been many "Rainbows" from New Zealand, and orders have come from many parts of the United States and Canada. The biggest fish modelled and painted at the Studio was a 200 lb. perch from the Nile, about a yard deep and seven feet long, while the smallest was an inch long for Queen Mary's doll's house. Funny fish of all shapes and sizes had to be reproduced to life but never was Mr. or Mrs. Tully defeated in their task, for with many different parties periodically on the river who had fished the streams of many lands, either through them or from those they could name, exact information was by one means or another to be had on the matter of colouring, etc. The name of the Studio and the names of its two devoted artistic workers, as a result of their manifold labours, became known throughout the whole world of angling. Their reputation in the work stood very high, and today there are to be seen in many lands these modelled triumphs of the sport of anglers each of them commemorating a great individual occasion."
John Tully retired from active work shortly after the death of the 7th Duke of Richmond, in 1928, but "he continued his fine activities in forms of artistic work in which his reputation stood high." He died on Tuesday, 20th October 1931, aged 69 and was buried in Bellie churchyard. Isabella (Dhuie) later moved to Elm Bank, South Street, where she built another studio and continued to paint until arthritis forced her to stop. It is believed that she was joined by her brother, James, who came north again from Denholm, near Hawick, after John Tully's death. It is also understood that the fish modelling work of the studio did not cease immediately, as a salmon was modelled for a member of the Gordon Lennox family not long after John Tully's death. This is believed to have been carved by Bertie George and painted by Dhuie Tully. Bertie George had been John Tully's deputy at Gordon Castle.
Isabella Tully died on 7th November 1950 and is commemorated, together with John Tully and other members of his family, on a memorial stone in Bellie churchyard.Courtesy Allan Holmes, Washington, U.S.A.