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The Islesman at Home is a powerfully concentrated example of the products of Celtic Revivalism, a network of movements that, through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, encouraged a revival of interest in Celtic culture.
From an early age, growing up in Dunfermline, Joseph Noel Paton was inspired by his father’s collection and his own reading to establish interests as an antiquary and folklorist, and he developed a wide knowledge of Celtic romance and legend, as well as an expertise in, particularly, historic arms and armour. Both he and his father became Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and, when he inherited and expanded his father’s collection, he sometimes lent items from it to exhibitions. Inevitably – and intentionally – his knowledge and expertise informed his paintings, including the present one, with its panoply of jewellery, weapons and other distinctive objects.
The Islesman at Home is unlikely to depict a specific individual or event. (For Paton tended to clarify the subjects of his paintings through the precision of his titles, as he did with Dawn – Luther at Erfurt, which he produced in the same year, 1861.) Rather, it provides a potent mixture of history and myth and, in its focus on the family, encourages a positively emotive response to ancient Scottish forebears. The title suggests that the protagonist is a ruler or warrior from the ‘Kingdom of the Isles’, a country that existed from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, and comprised the Hebrides, the islands of the Firth of Clyde and the Isle of Man. Paton was certainly acquainted with the first two of these places, and especially Arran, in the Firth of Clyde, where he and his family often spent summer holidays. He may therefore have woven a specifically personal strand among the wider implications of his composition.