Monday, 14 June 2010

Glasgow Boys - Second City Painters

Illustration: Joseph Crawhall,  The White Drake - Watercolour and gouache on unsized brown linen, 1895.

“And at this end of the nineteenth century, in the midst of one of the busiest, noisiest, smokiest cities, that with its like fellows make up the sum-total of the greatness of Britain’s commercial position, there is a movement existing, and a compelling force behind it … which .. may yet, perhaps put Glasgow on the Clyde into the hands of the future historians of Art, on much the same grounds as those on which Bruges, Venice and Amsterdam find themselves in the book of the life of the world…”
Fra Newberry, Introduction to “The Glasgow School of Painting”, David Martin, 1897.

Precursors: East Lothian
• Gemmel Hutchison (1855-1936)
• Sir James Lawton Wingate (1846-1924)
• W. Darling McKay (1844-1923) [also wrote The Scottish School of Painting 1906]
• J Campbell Noble and Robert Noble
From 1874 onwards these artists were making small scale works in response to the landscape and people of the Borders. Wingate later moved to Perthshire. They saw themselves as in the tradition of the French Barbizon school.

• Duncan Mckellar RSW (1849-1908) and Alexander Davidson RSW (1838-87) were popular artists whose pictures sold well at the Glasgow Institute exhibition.
• These artists specialised in sentimental pictures of archaic-looking Scottish interiors. Often badly painted, the canvases had a ready-made aged appearance through the use of a medium called “megilp” or painter’s malbutter.

Literary parallels
• The burgeoning Industrial Revolution needed a literate and numerate working class, who began to read for pleasure and the Whistle-Binkie pamphlets brought stability and couthiness to every home. The Whistle-Binkie collections did not represent the only kind of writing, nor the only writers working in Scotland from 1832 to 1890, but they were extremely popular and presented a cosmeticised view of Scottish life and values which ignored or distorted the social and political realities of the time, especially the Highland Clearances and massive urbanisation, something the Kailyard exploited.
See Writing Scotland. Learning Journeys Tartan Myths website

The Kailyard dream got a rude awakening when The House With The Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown was published in 1901 and John MacDougall Hay's 1914 novel Gillespie is similarly unrelenting.

'Brown's masterpiece was practically the first Scottish novel since Galt which dealt with nineteenth-century Scottish life as it really was; to do this, and to get away from the sentimentalism of the Kailyard, it had to be sharply, almost brutally realistic.'
Kurt Wittig, The Scottish Tradition in Literature

• Guthrie in particular was an early admirer of James McNeil Whistler. The American was an outsider figure during the 1870s and 80s; he accuses Ruskin of libel in 1878-9 and gives the “Ten o’Clock Lecture” in 1885.
• Simple execution, avoidance of narrative incident, decorative flair were all admired.
• “Aspect is Subject” – Macaulay Stevenson.
Whistler's "Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle" 1872-73; Oil on canvas, 171.1 x 143.5 cm; Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery.
Note: the painting was shown at the GIE in 1888 on sale for £1000. It had nearly been bought by Edinburgh in ‘84 for £500 however Whistler upped the price when he saw the list of subscribers to the painting. Walton organised a petition to the Art Gallery Committee signed by 89 including 64 artists. Whistler sensing interest said the price was now 1000 guineas. A Corporation representative attempted to haggle with Whistler over tea laced with rum and lemon. He failed to get a discount.

French influence
Whistler's subject matter did not immediately attract the Boys. They preferred a rural setting and peasant subject matter.
• Key artists; Jean Francoise Millet and Jules Bastien Lepage.

“one of the busiest, noisiest, smokiest cities”
• Pop of 1 million: 4th largest city in Europe.
• Textiles, engineering (especially ships and locomotives) and steel.
• Had a public museum collection from 1807 (from William Hunter). Had a municipal art collection from 1855 onwards.
• Exhibition societies begin in Glasgow in 1811. Early societies eventually lead to Glasgow Institute founded 1861.
• Art dealers were based in Glasgow such as Alexander Reid, friend of the van Gogh brothers.
• Art education minimal however until Francis Newberry takes over Glasgow School of Art in 1885.

2 Boys groups
• A tradition has grown up of dividing the Boys into two; a group around Paterson and Macgregor and one around Guthrie and Walton.
• All four had been rejected by the Glasgow Art Club in 1877. Macgregor then went to London to study with Legros at the Slade. Paterson left for Paris, Guthrie for London then Paris.
• Macgregor’s studio in 134 Bath Street, Glasgow post-79 was a key meeting place. All the boys would drop in, bar Guthrie. Macgregor ran an informal drawing class.

French visits and studies
• John Lavery
• Alexander Roche
• Thomas Millie Dow
• William Kennedy
• All visit Grez-sur-Loing 1883 and 1884. They do so in explicit emulation of Bastien-Lepage.

Clausen in the Scottish Art Review on Bastien-Lepage, October 1888.
• “It is not a comic countryman, nor a sentimental countryman as seen from a townsman's point of view, but his own home life that he paints – one feels in his work a deeper penetration and a greater intimacy with his subject than in the work of other men.”

• Born East Linton, studied Edinburgh. Then to Paris to the Academie Julian.
• Visited Grez (78-9) where he met Robert Louis Stevenson. Adopts watercolour after Parisian demonstration.
• Travels in Middle East and India. Ripping Yarns style adventures.
• Exhibits in London 1883 to be called “blottesque” (ie dubiously French…) and Glasgow (the now lost Evie).
• Visits Cockburnspath in 1884 and goes to Orkney with Guthrie in 85.

• Joseph Crawhall was from a dynasty of Newcastle art collectors, each called Joseph.
• He had known Guthrie since 1879 and had visited Cockburnspath frequently.
• Inspired by Melville he travelled to North Africa.
• Left: Portrait by Walton, 1884.

Glasgow International Exhibition, Kelvingrove
Guthrie and Walton visit Paris in company of Melville.
Henry and Hornel painting in Galloway push limits of decorative surface technique.

Pioneering Painters: The Glasgow Boys 1880–1900 Kelvingrove Art Gallery until 27 September 2010
"is the first major exhibition devoted to this influential group of artists since 1968. It will be the definitive Glasgow Boys exhibition, comprising around 100 oil paintings and 50 works on paper. All the important artists associated with the group, including James Guthrie, EA Hornel, George Henry, Joseph Crawhall and Arthur Melville are represented."
See Exhibition Website for more information.

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