John Underwood [of Ayr]
'Tam O'Shanter' chair 1822
Oak and brass | RCIN 27942
This gothic-style armchair carved with thistles celebrates the work of the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96). It was made by John Underwood of Ayr from a portion of the roof of the old Kirk of Alloway, Ayrshire; Burns was born in Alloway in 1759, in a cottage close to the old Kirk. By the time that Burns was at the height of his fame, the Kirk had become a ruin and the timbers of the roof were used to make a number of Burns-related memorabilia and souvenirs. The back of the chair is inlaid with four brass panels engraved with Burns’s celebrated poem Tam O’Shanter, written in 1790. The Kirk is the setting for much of the poem, in which Tam, on returning drunk from market in Ayr, sees witches and warlocks dancing and the devil playing the bagpipes in the Kirk. They give chase and pull off the tail of Tam’s horse, Meg. The reverse of the back of the chair is painted with Tam riding his horse.
This chair was presented to George IV in 1822, the year of his visit to Scotland, and was received at Carlton House shortly after his return. Another similar chair was presented to the 13th Earl of Eglinton and Winton in 1818 by David Auld (sold at Sotherby's, New York, 1 February 1992, lot 271).
ProvenanceReceived at Carlton House for George IV on 3 September 1822; later it was in the Guard Chamber at Windsor Castle, finally being sent to Holyroodhouse in 1901 by King Edward VII.
Another very similar version, made in 1818 and presented to the Earl of Eglinton and Winton, sold at Sotheby's, New York, 1 February 1992.
Sent to Holyroodhouse by King Edward VII, 1901
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