About this artwork

James Cox’s photographs of Auchmithie in the early 1880s bear a strong resemblance to the Newhaven photographs by Hill and Adamson, taken some forty years earlier. This isolated fishing community, to the north-east of Dundee, became known to a wider audience as the inspiration for the village of Musselcrag in Sir Walter Scott’s novel ‘The Antiquary’. The striking photograph of an Auchmithie fishwife would have been interpreted as an image of one of its characters, Maggie Mucklebackit. Her famous line, ‘It’s no fish ye’re buying – it’s men’s lives’ refers to the dangers of the fishing trade. This image of the simple, earnest and hardworking life of the pre-industrial age is imbued with nostalgia, whilst also showing its continued existence in the late-nineteenth century.

James Cox

James Cox

James Cox was the eldest child of a wealthy jute manufacturing family. He was an amateur painter and photographer. In 1880 he helped set up the Dundee and East of Scotland Photographic Association and was its first president. An exhibitor at the Royal Scottish Academy from 1884-6, Cox was a member of the consultative committee for the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888. His best work is a series of photographs taken in the 1880s of the fishing villages of West Haven and Auchmithie. According to one contemporary, Cox owned the best equipped amateur studio he had ever seen.