About this artwork

The Grassmarket is a spacious open square running along the south side of Edinburgh's Castle rock. It was traditionally the location of the weekly market for corn and cattle, but the east end of the Grassmarket was also the site of the public gallows, last used in 1784. Le Conte’s small, sketchy watercolour is interspersed with areas of great detail, such as the legible shop signs advertising ‘Tobacco + Snuff’, and the flocks of minute birds flying above the castle ramparts. The everyday scene of street-life in the foreground contrasts with the foreboding backdrop of the imposing castle and threatening grey sky.

John Le Conte

John Le Conte

During the 1830s, John Le Conte was employed in the workshop of the engraver Robert Scott before setting up his own engraving business in 1845. He is best known for his watercolours and engravings of the buildings of old Edinburgh. Le Conte was a prolific artist, and his work provides an important historical account of how Edinburgh looked in the middle of the nineteenth century, before many of its structures were demolished to make way for new buildings. His sketches of the city are characterised by his spontaneous technique, using light, quick brushstrokes, which convey the sense of bustling street life. Le Conte is now widely acknowledged as one of the most successful engravers in Scotland during the late nineteenth century.

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