Canvas 5 – Burns and Freemasonry

Burns and Freemasonry

This canvas is deliberately set horizontally rather than vertically like the others because it represents the pivotal change in Burns at this point. Freemasonry allowed Burns to by-pass the sense of incompatibility he had with his neighbours and sublimate the uneasiness he felt in the presence of the gentry. As a Mason he was as one among other Masons and able to enjoy the freedom of the social benefits of their society.

The Kilmarnock Edition is seen at the centre of the canvas. It is superimposed on the Saltire Cross, which is set against a night sky hanging over the skylines of Ayr, Kilmarnock, Edinburgh and Dumfries and can be seen silhouetted in white at the base of the picture. Above this a globe indicates his worldwide appeal and this is further emphasised by the national flags at each corner of the frame, serving as cardinal points of the compass: to the north (top left) is Scotland, Germany and Russia. To the south (lower right), South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. To the east, (top right) is India, China and Japan and to the west (lower left) U.S.A., Canada and Brazil. The two medallions at mid-level are taken from the first paintings of Burns: Alexander Reid’s miniature of 1795 on the left and on the right, the John Meirs silhouette painted in Edinburgh in 1787. The Reid is only three inches high and the Meirs four inches and, between the two, the remarkable journey of the man who came from an obscure farmhouse to being hailed as ‘Bard of all Scotland’ in Scotland’s capital is represented the image of Halley’s Comet, which appeared over Ayrshire at his birth and now curves to join both medallions. Burns’ Masonic regalia hangs vertically at the centre: his star, Mason’s mark, Depute Master’s medal and Masonic emblem with sword. Finally the hats at the very base indicate the Nine masons who inaugurated the very first Burns’ Supper in the King’s Hotel, Alloway in 1797. They were Reverend Hamilton Paul, Robert Aiken, Provost Ballantyne, William Crawford of Doonside, Barrack Master Fergusson, Dr Douglas of Garallan, Rector Thomas Jackson of Ayr Academy and Messrs Kennedy and Scott – names that deserve to be remembered.