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The Drover's Departure: A Scene in the Grampians

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    1835 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Landseer, Edwin Henry (Sir), born 1802 - died 1873 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Paintings, Room 82, The Edwin and Susan Davies Galleries, case NORTH WALL

This painting depicts a Highland drover setting out from the Grampian Mountains in Scotland to drive cattle and sheep to the English markets. In 1855 a French critic described it as 'a curious picture of national manners--interesting as a page of Sir Walter Scott'.

Physical description

This painting draws on the traditions that were already passing away rapidly, the great drives of highland cattle and sheep south to the English markets necessary to bring fresh meat to the consumer in the days before refrigeration. It captures the wild beauties of the Scottish landscape and the rugged individuality of the highlanders. In the elaborate composition, there are many people as well as sheep, a pony, a horse, deer, cattle, goats, dogs and a hen with chicks.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (probably, painted)


1835 (painted)


Landseer, Edwin Henry (Sir), born 1802 - died 1873 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

oil on canvas


Height: 125.8 cm estimate, Width: 191.2 cm estimate, Height: 1580 mm framed, Width: 2232 mm framed, Depth: 154 mm framed

Object history note

Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

Historical significance: From Richard Ormond, The Monarch of the Glen: Landseer in the Highlands (National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2005):

A Scene in the Grampians - the Drover's Departure is the largest and most complex picture in Landseer's series of Highland scenes. For centuries sheep and cattle have been herded south from the Highlands to the markets of Lowland Scotland and northern England. This was one of the staple products of the Highland economy and large numbers of animals were involved. The droves themselves were formidable undertakings, for keeping sheep and cattle fed and healthy over long distances and rough terrain required high levels of skill and experience. The droves were well organised along established routes that stretched far and wide across Scotland. The drovers were an independent body of men who specialised in the trade, and they were generally employed by agents acting for the farmers and landowners.

Landseer's painting is a microcosm of Highland life. It was criticised at the time for being over-burdened with incident and detail. The main action takes place outside a turf-covered bothie with groups of animals and people left and right. A departing drover, babe in arms, stands at the apex of a pyramid of figures that includes an old woman, and two young women fussing over an elderly man, presumably their father, who is smoking his pipe. In the foreground several incidents are taking place: a puppy is taunting a hen which is fiercely defending its young; and an excited terrier, watched by a crouching boy, looks out from under a bench at a dignified sheep dog suckling a puppy as if about to spring. In the middle distance a pair of seated lovers bid each other a fond farewell. A grey Highland pony with a pack saddle holds the stage centre left with sheep and rams beside it, a Highland bull and cow beyond, and then some goats, a veritable Noah's Ark of domestic animals. In the distance there are more leave-takings, while in the valley massed herds of cattle and sheep are congregating along the road that winds away into the distance. The passage from the homely domesticity of the foreground scene to the distant spectacle of loch and castle and snow-capped mountains is an allegory of the drovers' adventurous journey into the wilds.

Descriptive line

Oil painting entitled 'The Drover's Departure - A scene in the Grampians', by Sir Edwin Landseer. Great Britain, 1835.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, Ronald Parkinson, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: HMSO, 1990, pp. 139-41
Richard Ormond, Monarch of the Glen: Landseer in the Highlands. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2005.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Sheep; Cow (animal); Figures; Children; Dog (animal); Women; Men; Farmers


Paintings; Anthropomorphism; Images Online; Scotland


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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