At the launch of the Turner Prize exhibition on 27 September at Turner Contemporary in Margate, one of the stars of the show was an historic painting borrowed from the Fleming Collection, entitled Lochaber No More by John Watson Nicol (1856-1926). Acknowledged as one of the iconic images of the Highland Clearances, it forms part of the installation by Turner prize nominee, Columbian born, Oscar Murillo.
For Murillo, aged 33, Nicol’s painting makes a connection to past migrations in the UK’s history. He said: “The Fleming Collection has been very generous in lending Nicol’s truly exceptional painting for my submission to Turner Contemporary. I want to hold a mirror and show that notions of social movement are not other or exotic, but instead have roots in this country due to socio-economic change.”
Nicol was just twenty-seven when he painted Lochaber No More in 1883 at the height of discontent against the eviction and economic exile of highland crofters. Appropriately, Murillo places the painting at the heart of his installation, hung between two painted backdrops, suggestive of society’s myopia, and opposite an immense blacked out window, apart from a horizontal slit offering a slither of hope to the sea beyond. Before it sit a group of papier-mâché ‘effigies’ emblematic of worker-migrants.
Director, Tate, Maria Balshaw, said: “Oscar Murillo has always been passionate about art history having included a painting by Alfred Wallis in a previous installation. It is a privilege for Turner Contemporary to display a work of such historical and contemporary relevance from the Fleming Collection.”
Nicol’s painting drew a crowd of interested viewers at the Margate opening including the newly appointed Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, Helen Whately.
This is not the first time that Lochaber No More has caused a stir in a high profile British institution. In 1883 it was exhibited at the Royal Academy when it rode the growing wave of public protest against the Clearances. Can it do the same today as – arguably - the first historic painting to form part of a Turner prize exhibit?
The winner of the 2019 Turner Prize will be announced on 3rd December 2019. The exhibition at Turner Contemporary will run till the 12th January 2020