Sir James Erskine, 3rd baronet of Torrie was born in 1772 at Torrie House in Fife. He was a successful professional soldier as well as a collector and an amateur artist. Erskine served with Wellington in the Napoleonic Wars and was personal secretary to King George III between 1802 and 1804. He bequeathed his collection to the University in 1824 and it eventually came to the University on the death of his brother, John Drummond Erskine in 1836. The collection consists of Dutch and Flemish landscape painting, Italian works and Renaissance bronzes. Outstanding pieces include Ruisdael’s, The Banks of a River, currently on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland, Ten Oever’s Bathers and The Forest Glade by Pynacker. The Cavalcade by van der Meulen is unique in British public collections. Ships in a Calm by Willem van der Velde and The Squall by Backhuysen are both good examples of the Dutch art of seascape. Other celebrated works are Halt at a Winehouse Door by Karel du Jardin and the painting by David Teniers the Younger, Peasants playing Bowls. There are notable Italian paintings by Gaspard Poussin and Salvator Rosa. Of the sculpture collection, the two outstanding works are the Anatomical Figure of a Horse attributed to Giambologna and the group of Cain and Abel by Adriaen de Vries.
Sir James Erskine of Torrie.
The collection was transferred to Edinburgh University in 1837 under the terms of Sir James Erskine of Torrie’s will. A few years later it was loaned to the Royal Institution and passed from there to its successor body, the National Gallery of Scotland. The bulk of the collection was returned to the University in 1954. A further small group of works was returned in 1983.