Patrick Allan was born in Arbroath, Scotland, in 1812, which is as random a start in life as any other.

According to one source, he was the third son of a weaving merchant. Another states that he was the third son of a stocking maker. In any case, this third son refused to train as a lawyer with his mother’s brother, John, but did work through his housepainter apprenticeship with his mother’s other brother, Alex, before ending up at art school.

Well, no, he didn’t ‘end up’ at art school. His art education began in Edinburgh, continued in Rome, then Paris and then London, but he returned to Arbroath in 1842 to satisfy a commission to illustrate a Walter Scott novel, and, in the process, met and married Elizabeth Fraser of Hospitalfield. With the support of his new wife and her estate, he proceeded to put the estate’s financial affairs onto a stronger footing, redesign the house so that it incorporated a splendid gallery, commission by-then-famous artist-friends to make self-portraits, establish a library (including a First Folio), discover a supply of fresh water for the estate and for the town of Arbroath, enter into a correspondence with Charles Dickens, self-publish a 600-page book packed with ideas for social reform, build a monumental tribute to Elizabeth... and much, much more. When he died in 1890, the house and estate were left to the artists of the future.

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Who was Patrick Allan-Fraser? The image above is how I see him a month before the start of my Cargill Fellowship at Hospitalfield - wide-eyed at the opportunities that life has presented him with. How will I see him by the end of my residency there? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, let’s stick with an image of anticipation-cum-revelation...