Found and Lost: Francis Place (1647-1728) in Scotland Back

In this special series of posts, ‘The Lost Works’, we’re sharing your stories of objects and artefacts that  have crossed the path of your research but could not be studied because they’ve been lost, damaged, destroyed or have mysteriously disappeared. 


Attributed to Francis Place, Dunbar Castle and the Bass Rock, c.1671, Yale Center for British Art, open access as per Yale University’s policy.

In 1701, the artist Francis Place left his home and young family in York and headed north, embarking on a sketching tour of Scotland. This is evidenced by a series of extant topographical drawings, largely in pen and wash, of castles, ruins and townscapes, which appear to track a journey once in Scotland from Dunbar on the east coast, westwards as far as Dumbarton.

This expedition would not have been unusual for Place, who had already undertaken a significant programme of perambulations around Britain, Ireland and northern Europe. In 1699 he had travelled, and produced drawings, between Drogheda and Waterford and in 1678 in the company of his friend and fellow artist William Lodge, had walked from York to South Wales on a sketching excursion. In Place’s own words, ‘We went 700 miles in Seaven Weekes’.[1]

What was unusual, however, was the very fact of Place’s journey to Scotland from England during this period, for reasons of leisure and empirical study of the northern landscape, rather than warfare or trade. Place belonged to a group of gentlemen known as the York Virtuosi, with complementary interests in antiquarianism, natural philosophy and topographical and geological curiosities. William Lodge had accompanied their mutual friend Thomas Kirke on an expedition of 1677 which reached the Orkney Islands before turning back south, then onwards to Ireland. Kirke had recorded this experience in a travel journal and a provocative pamphlet in which the Scots were described as ‘perfect English haters’; Lodge made a detailed but incomplete drawing of views of Edinburgh, Dundee and North Berwick.[2] But we have no evidence of Lodge travelling any further with Kirke, beyond tracking the east coast of the British Isles from York to the River Tay.

Francis Place’s east-west journey saw him making topographical records of Dunbar Castle and the Bass Rock, Stirling Castle, Glasgow, and Dumbarton Castle, continuing a lifelong interest in the depiction of fortifications, both active and ruinous.  But unlike Lodge, whose etching of Dysart on the Fife coast was published in London by Pierce Tempest, and whose drawing of Edinburgh and Dundee assumes the same format as his ‘compartmentalised’ etchings of York, and Leeds and Wakefield, Place’s drawings were not translated into prints for broader circulation. They seem to have been produced purely for his own pleasure, as a record of his Scottish journey.[3] And there is tantalising evidence that this was a longer and more extensive journey than these surviving drawings suggest.

In the collections of Hospitalfield House in Arbroath, north-east Scotland, is a notebook compiled in the mid-eighteenth century by Place’s son-in-law Wadham Wyndham. The notebook, and a significant number of works on paper once belonging to Place, had passed through his descendants to Hospitalfield by the late nineteenth century, with much of the collection being sold at auction in 1931. The notebook lists drawings primarily by Place, but with others by Wenceslaus Hollar, Thomas Wyck and Thomas Manby, which had been inherited by Place’s daughter Frances Wyndham. My transcription of the notebook has enabled a fuller, if still incomplete understanding of the range of Place’s work and his influences as a largely self-taught artist.[4] While I have been able to locate many of these drawings in public galleries and museums, as well as private hands, a number now ‘exist’ solely in the pages of the notebook. In relation to his journey across Scotland, one untraced drawing by Place is listed simply as ‘Highlands Scotland’, the description given by Wadham Wyndham likely taken from the annotations frequently applied by the artist to his sketches. There is no further indication as to what this drawing depicted, although by the early eighteenth century the geographic distinctions between Highland and Lowland Scotland were well-established from an etymologic perspective, suggesting that Place’s travels had extended north from Stirling. It certainly indicates that he was one of, if not the first British artist to explore an area which would become key to the Scottish landscape tradition of the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with his drawings in pen and wash significantly pre-empting the watercolours of Paul Sandby.

This depiction of ‘Highlands Scotland’ may yet to be catalogued in a public print collection. It may be in private hands; I’ve been able to connect a number of drawings by Francis Place which have appeared at auctions in recent decades to items in the Hospitalfield notebook. Perhaps it sits quietly somewhere, awaiting rediscovery: in the early 1950s a small cache of Place’s drawings was discovered at Hospitalfield in a disused sideboard.[5] Or it may genuinely be lost: vulnerable to fire, water, clumsy hands, the wastepaper bin.

‘Highlands Scotland’ is one of a number of lost or untraced drawings recorded in the Hospitalfield notebook which open up Place’s known oeuvre, both in relation to, and beyond, the topographical interests he is best known for. References to nude studies with both male and female models add an intriguing dimension to his status as a self-taught, provincial artist of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. I’m left to wonder what Place witnessed, and put down on paper, which became ‘Booth & on Thames the great Frost’, a souvenir of a winter visit to London. Perhaps closer to home, was the ‘Dog’s head in Oyl on Paper’ a portrait of a favourite and particularly faithful pet? Although my discoveries in relation to the Hospitalfield notebook have produced many questions, as well as answers, revealing artworks still lost as well as found, a narrow window into the world of this adventurous artist has become at least a little clearer.

[1] Francis Place, The ‘Small Sketchbook’, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, museum number E.1506.1934.

[2] Thomas Kirke, A Modern Account of Scotland, Being an Exact Description of the Country, and a True Character of the People and their Manners (1679), p.11; see also the edition of Kirke’s journal, published in Peter Hume Brown (ed.), Tours in Scotland 1677 and 1681 by Thomas Kirk and Ralph Thoresby (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1892). Lodge’s unfinished drawing, annotated as ‘a prospect of Edinburgh by Mr. Lodge’ by its early owner Ralph Thoresby, is in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland, accession number D2.

[3] William Lodge, The View of DYSERT in SCOTLAND, c.1677; an impression of this rare etching is in the British Library’s King George III Topographical Collection, shelfmark K.Top.49.85.3.

[4] Helen Pierce, ‘Francis Place (1647-1728) and his collection of works on paper’, Journal of the History of Collections, forthcoming 2020,

[5] Theo Moorman, ‘Some newly discovered drawings by Francis Place’, The Burlington Magazine, 94: 591 (June 1952), pp.159-161.