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resources/The Card Room at Skibo Castle

A Precious Gift

Posted: 11 November 2019

The marble relief above the fireplace in the Card Room is one of Skibo Castle’s most striking artworks. Commissioned by Andrew Carnegie in the early 1900s, the Édourd Lantéri panel depicts Louise Whitfield Carnegie tenderly cradling her infant daughter, Margaret. History thinks of Carnegie as many things - industrialist, steel baron and philanthropist - but rarely as sentimental. Yet this piece, depicting his beloved wife and daughter, reveals a softer side to this famous character.

Carnegie did not marry until he was 51, when in 1887 he wed a New York socialite called Louise Whitfield. Louise shared Carnegie’s philanthropic philosophy and when they married in 1887 she became his partner in distributing his vast wealth. A decade later, the couple’s first and only child, Margaret, was born in 1897.

Skibo castle today; Andrew Carnegie in the Skibo gardens with his infant daughter Margaret and beloved wife Louise, c.1899

Skibo castle today; Andrew Carnegie in the Skibo gardens with his infant daughter Margaret and beloved wife Louise, c.1899

It was the birth of Margaret that brought Carnegie to Skibo. Determined that his daughter grows up feeling as much at home in Scotland as she did in America, he purchased the Highland estate. He then began an extensive remodelling project which tripled the size of the castle and transformed the interior. As part of the refurbishment of the castle, Carnegie commissioned the sculptor Edouard Lantéri to create a special gift for his wife.

Illustration of Edouard Lantéri and the title page of his seminal textbook

Illustration of Edouard Lantéri and the title page of his seminal textbook

Lantéri was born in Auxerre, France, in 1848. Like Andrew Carnegie, Lantéri rose from humble beginnings – in his case, as the son of a tradesman – to become one of the most esteemed artists in Europe. In 1880 he began teaching at the National Art Training School (now the Royal College of Art) and taught many of the early twentieth century’s most renowned British sculptors, including Charles Wheeler, Albert Toft, Charles Sargeant Jagger, William Kellock Brown and Gilbert Ledward. When Lantéri’s seminal book on sculpture, Modelling: A Guide for Teachers and Students, was published the foreword was written by Auguste Rodin who affectionately referred to him as “Dear Master.”

The relief on display in the Card Room; a close-up showing the incredible skill of Lantéri’s marble work

The relief on display in the Card Room; a close-up showing the incredible skill of Lantéri’s marble work

Once complete, the marble relief was placed in a beautiful, ornately carved oak overmantle and hung in Louise’s sitting room, today called the Card Room by which was then known as the Boudoir. While striking from any distance, on closer inspection the relief reveals Lantéri’s immense talent: the artistry is breath-taking, from the wisps of Louise’s hair to the folds of her patterned shawl depicted in incredible detail.

The relief was been sold by a previous owner of Skibo, but when it came up for auction in 2009 The Carnegie Club made sure to submit a winning bid so that the Lantéri relief could be restored to its original and rightful home. Chairman Peter Crome did not know where the artwork had been previously hung, but felt that it would work well above the Card Room fireplace. When the team positioned the relief they found that it had been returned to its original placement, with the pegs on the wooden frame able to slip through the silk wallhangings to find the original holes hidden beneath.

Today, the marble relief is on display in the Card Room where - just as it did a century ago – it delights guests at Skibo with its tender depiction of motherly love.

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