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Robert Burns Lives!
A Letter from John Clark, Dumfries Artist and Poet

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

Last week we brought you the story of three Ukrainians (Peter, Hanna, and Taya) and this week we add a Scot, John Clark, a famous Dumfries artist as well as a published poet. John was asked to provided a cover for ROBERT BURNS SELECTED WORKS, a book written in both English and Hungarian. It was compiled by Peter and Hanna. John’s gallery sits close to the Theatre Royal and is famous for being a place of refuge for Robert Burns. Had he lived, a lot of scholars feel that the next great adventure for Burns would be play writing. It would have been the third area to display the genius of Burns, poems and songs being the first two.

I want to express my appreciation to one and all for helping with these last two chapters of Robert Burns Lives! since it is something new for most of us. My deepest thanks go to Peter, Hanna, and John. Hopefully I will still receive the story from Taya as to how Burns influenced her life. When and if it comes in I will add it to last week’s chapter featuring Peter and Hanna. Below is a letter from John Clark I received about his work on the front cover of the book.

Next time we meet I hope to introduce a series of articles to be written over 2014 that will be a highlight for me. Until then, stay tuned! (FRS: 1.9.a4)

A Letter from John Clark, Dumfries Artist and Poet

Dear Sir

‘Wars of Independence’

in response to Hanna Dyka’s request to provide information on the artwork for the recent translation of Burns into Ukrainian, as the artist, I am pleased to give details as follows.   I also attach some images which you may find interesting.    Full details of my work is available via 



            As  a creative writer I also penned a few lines (shown below) which was used in the intro to the book. 

                                                   ‘The Battle of Stirling Bridge’  1297

In arrogance they came and went
their prejudice in battle spent
and on that glorious day were slayed –
an’ for their folly dearly paid.
Treachery wad lay brave Wallace low
condemned to die by ‘English law’.
In consequence, mair bluid wad rin
upon the fields o ‘Bannockburn’.
Oor freedom then by Bruce proclaimed
oor independence  rightly claimed!’
                                                  J Clark

The finished design was completed using ‘computer software  to merge a blurred version of the wonderful Archibald Skirving sketch, suitable text and a fragment of the painting shown above. It made a rather striking image (I’m sure you will agree) and one I feel Burns himself would have been very proud off.      I wonder what he would have thought of the poem…???

The original painting is owned by a friend of mine (Eric Green) who kindly allowed it to be displayed at the book launch held in the Ukrainian Consul at the UK book launch in Edinburgh.  It was quite a substantial painting, the medium used was gouache.  Signed A3 - Ltd Edition prints of this painting are available direct from the website on  

How the painting evolved.

The inspiration for the painting actually came from a smaller painting of a battle scene I had completed and sold some months earlier.  I used to travel to Gleneagles Hotel (near Stirling) for business meetings and passed by Stirling Castle quite often.    I was always struck by the impressive battlements,  particularly the outline of the castle which cut into the sky.     I have always been interested in Scottish history, especially the period covering the ‘wars of independence’, so I decided to paint a larger version of the small battle scene and include the outline of the castle as it might have looked in 1297.   The suggestion of small crosses and other abstract marks being sucked up into the sky, represents the souls of those who died in battle.    Although the Scottish Army (mainly foot-soldiers with spears) were heavily outnumbered that day, the Scots trapped the English by cleverly luring them across the bridge.    The painting works by power of suggestion rather than detail and you will be hard pressed to pick out a clear definition of a horse or a knight.   The exception to this is the heavily armoured knight on horseback, surrounded by Scottish Saltires being up-ended on the bridge.    This acts as a focal point for the painting with the faint,  ghost-like silhouette of Stirling Castle in the background.

‘Battle of Stirling Bridge’  1297

Once over the narrow bridge, about five thousand English infantry and 100 men at arms were easily annexed from the main army (10,000 to 12,000 strong).  Recognising the  folly of such an ill-thought action  the English commander,  John De- Warenne destroyed the bridge,  effectively signing the death warrant for half his troops.  Included in the slaughter was Hugh de Cressingham, the hated English tax collector who was flayed to death and partially skinned for his sins.    This was the first time heavily armoured English knights had been defeated in battle (by foot soldiers) as up to that point they were deemed to be invincible.   Although Wallace  a clever commander,  used the marshy ground, Brig and  loop in the river to devastating effect,  it also helped De-Warenne grossly underestimated the Scottish will to win!  Consequently the English oppressors were duly put to the sword.

The beautiful area surrounding Stirling is steeped in history.  The magnificent Wallace’s Monument, with many artefacts from the period stands on a hill overlooking the old battlegrounds of Stirling Brig and Bannockburn.  It is well worth a visit.  There is a view ‘to die for’ at the top (many did)!    Wallace’s brutal death in London ensured his name would forever be revered as a true Scottish patriot and paved the way for Robert the Bruce to defeat the English again at Bannockburn and seal independence for Scotland.

As a Doonhamer (Dumfries man) and Burns Howff Club member, I was flattered and honoured to be asked to design the cover, illustrate the book and I trust it will inspire many  students in the Ukraine to read Burns for generations to come.

Trust you find the above interesting.  Please feel free to edit as required.

Yours sincerely

John Clark

The photograph shows from left to right,  Gordon Johnstone  (Hon Club Librarian)  and his son Neil ( both past presidents) along with Peter Kormylo past President and myself (John Clark, artist and Senior Vice president of the Burns Howff Club).   The picture was taken at the Moreig Hotel on receipt of the first copy of the new book just prior to the official launch in Edinburgh.

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