About this artwork

This watercolour shows a bustling fair in the small village of Oldhamstocks in East Lothian. The fair takes place at the Mercat (or Market) Cross, both the commercial heart of the village and symbol of its right to trade. Carse's picture dated 1796 is an important record of a Scottish country fair, as these were becoming increasingly rare. The late eighteenth century saw the disappearance of many rural customs and was a time of great social change in Scotland. Fairs and markets had traditionally been an integral part of the rural economy, fulfilling multiple functions as food, clothing and livestock markets, and as a hiring ground for farm servants. Carse takes great delight in depicting all the local characters, and shows that fairs were also a great opportunity for social gatherings.

Alexander Carse

Alexander Carse

Carse was an assistant to David Allan before the artist's death in 1796, and undoubtedly received preliminary artistic training from him. Allan's influence on Carse's small, vivacious genre scenes is evident. In 1801, he attended the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh, but this training did not yield the benefits and success that it did for his contemporaries like David Wilkie, and later in life Carse described himself as 'a painter, chiefly of domestic, familiar and poetical subjects'. Carse's pictures combine an honest realism with charm and wit. He was adept at capturing the different manners and customs of town and country folk, and recognised that the distinctions between these two ways of life were rapidly becoming fainter.