JONATHAN HANSEN renowned Creative Director

Jonathan Hansen for LES Emotional Objects

THE OBJECT: “Highland Fling”
Painted in 1827 by William Kidd RSA


“Highland Fling”  Painted in 1827 by William Kidd RSA

Q: Can you describe a sentimental object in your home that holds a special place in your heart? What memories or emotions does it evoke when you look at or interact with it? How has this object influenced your sense of identity and belonging?

A: The object that comes to mind is a painting I inherited from my father, who inherited it from my grandfather. It is called “Highland Fling,” painted in 1827 by William Kidd RSA (1790-1863). Kidd, a member of the Royal Scottish Academy, was renowned for his folk scenes and humorous genre paintings, primarily depicting Scottish life. “Highland Fling” portrays a woman dancing beside a seated man in a kilt, playing the bagpipes, with a dog intently watching the musician. This lively scene unfolds against the backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, with distant mountains and sky framing the composition.

I remember seeing this painting in my grandparents' house, and being mesmerized by it. Kidd's depiction of the subjects is so vivid that you can almost feel their motion. The woman's expression radiates joy, contrasting with the man's stoic demeanor as he plays his bagpipes. When I was young, I would invent stories about them — pondering whether she was his wife, lover, or perhaps the object of his unrequited love. The painting captures this dynamic interaction so vividly. Interestingly, I didn't notice the dog until after the painting came into my possession; one day, it seemed to materialize out of nowhere.

This painting has been a constant in my life, providing a sense of groundedness amid moves across the US, Canada, England, and Singapore. Returning to my grandparents' house and seeing this beloved painting in its familiar place always centered me, reassuring me that all was well despite the changes around me.

Q: Sentimental objects often bridge the gap between the past and the present. Could you share a story about how a particular object came to be so meaningful to you? Has its significance evolved over time, and if so, how has it adapted to the changing chapters of your life?

A: This painting is intertwined with my past, having passed through the hands of successive generations. This lineage imbues it with a profound meaning that is hard to convey in words. Initially, I was captivated by the subject matter in the foreground, but over time, my attention has shifted to the scene in the background. The sky and mountains possess an abstract quality reminiscent of early Rothko color field paintings. This juxtaposition of contemporary, abstract elements in the background with the historic, time-bound details in the foreground creates a striking contrast that I find compelling.

Now, the painting sits on the wall of our living room in our house in the Catskill Mountains, a harmonious blend of traditional and modern design. I often wonder if my appreciation for these coexisting dynamics began with this painting, nurturing a love for the interplay between the old and the new.

Q: The sentimental value of an object is often intertwined with the people who are part of its narrative. Could you recount an instance where a sentimental object became a source of connection or shared history among family members or friends? How does the presence of this object enhance the sense of kinship and emotional bonds within your home?

A: This painting’s direct connection to my father and his father weaves a rich tapestry of emotional resonance for me. I cherish the story of my grandfather acquiring it from a gallery in Edinburgh during a family trip in the 1960s. The narrative of this acquisition captivated me, sparking my imagination about its previous owners, how it came into their possession, and why they chose to part with it. This piece holds such profound sentimental value that I could never consider selling it. I hope my son will one day treasure it as deeply as I do.

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