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Have You Ever Heard About Scottish Impressionists? Here’s the Glasgow Boys

James Guthrie, To Pastures New, 1883, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
James Guthrie, To Pastures New, 1883, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums, Aberdeen, Scotland.

Impressionism

Have You Ever Heard About Scottish Impressionists? Here’s the Glasgow Boys

The Glasgow Boys were a group of Scottish Impressionists who placed the city of Glasgow on the artistic scene in the last third of the 19th century. Their avant-gardist style rejuvenated the Scottish pictorial panorama and brought Impressionism to Scotland. Their innovative pictorial tendencies and the distancing from Academicism were groundbreaking and revolutionary at the time, bringing modern painting to Scotland. The most prominent figures of the group were James Guthrie (18591930) and John Lavery (18561941).

John Lavery, The Glasgow Exhibition, 1888, Tate Modern, London, UK.
Scottish Impressionists: John Lavery, The Glasgow Exhibition, 1888, Tate Modern, London, UK.

As it is widely known, Impressionism may be one of the most influential, recognisable and loved artistic movements, despite its harsh beginnings and its initial detractors. When we talk about Impressionism, we all think about colourful sunrises, dancing ballerinas, beautiful landscapes executed in the plein-air style and, of course, waterlilies. Great artists like Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pisarro or Auguste Renoir stood out in this movement truly creating masterpieces, having the support and admiration of famous writers such as Emile Zola and Stéphane Mallarmé. But what do all these great artists have in common? They were all French. This is why we tend to relate Impressionism with France. Even though French Impressionists might be the highlights of Impressionism; let me tell you a secret: the truth is that there’s much more of this magnific style beyond France’s borders! Have you ever heard before about the Scottish Impressionists? Let’s discover them together in this exciting journey to Scotland!

James Guthrie, The Careenage, Bridgetown, Barbados, McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Inverclyde, Scotland.
Scottish Impressionists: James Guthrie, The Careenage, Bridgetown, Barbados, McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Inverclyde, Scotland.

The Glasgow Boys were a group of about 20 painters from different backgrounds who were united by ties of friendship. They were all based in Glasgow, where they lived, shared studios, painted and, of course, exchanged artistic ideas. In fact, they didn’t have a common statement or manifesto, but they were all interested in overcoming pictorial Academicism and managed to oppose the guidelines set up atthat time by the Royal Scottish Academy.

At the beginning of their production, the Glasgow Boys were inspired by French and Dutch Realism. In particular, they were deeply influenced by the French Naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage (18481884). By the late 1880s the Glasgow Boys began to develop a style close to Impressionism, bringing this avant-gardist style to Scotland. Thus, these Scottish Impressionists stood out for their great use of color, pattern, and texture in their paintings. As well as other European Impressionists of the time, they were inspired by Japanese art and included in their artworks the flattened forms of Japanese prints. They also represented a change because of their interest in everyday characters, such as rural people, and daily life topics. As well as the French Impressionists they revolutionized the pictorial technique by using the plein-air manner. As a result of these stylistic innovations, from this period the city of Glasgow is the one that acquires artistic protagonism in Scottish territory, to the detriment of Edinburgh.

John Lavery,  Edward Arthur Walton with his fiancée Helen Law (Hokusai and the Butterfly), 1889, National Galleries of Scotland,  Edinburgh, Scotland.
Scottish Impressionists: John Lavery, Edward Arthur Walton with his fiancée Helen Law (Hokusai and the Butterfly), 1889, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Glasgow Boys group was active at the time of the great industrial and economic expansion of Glasgow during the 19th century. One can establish a reciprocal relationship between the economic expansion of the city and the progressive interest of the wealthy citizenry in art. Consequently, It can be said that the artistic group benefited from this economic growth, especially from the enrichment of the bourgeoisie and the upper-middle class. The greater prosperity and the increase in the capacity of acquisition led to a greater interest in art and to a progressive refinement of the public’s tastes. The Glasgow Boys also counted on and enjoyed the support of important collectors and art dealers, who acted as patrons and also stimulated the innovative and nonconformist spirit of artists such as Alexander Reid. This dealer, who personally knew painters such as Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, financed and supported the Glasgow Boys. They also brought works by the French Impressionists, the Hague School, and Barbizon painters to Glasgow, inspiring the young Scottish artists and opening up new horizons in the artistic field.

James Guthrie, A Hind’s Daughter, 1883, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Scottish Impressionists: James Guthrie, A Hind’s Daughter, 1883, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Two of the most preeminent figures were James Guthrie (1859–1930) and John Lavery (1856–1941). The former was self-taught, but that did not prevent him from becoming the mainstay of the group. He received his influence from the French painter Gustave Courbet. After returning from a trip to Paris in 1883, his style moved closer to Impressionism. The day-to-day matter of the topics and the new treatment of tonality and brushstroke in his later paintings manifest this change. One of his earliest works, A Highland Funeral, seems to have been directly inspired by Courbet’s The Burial at Ornans. With this work, Guthrie began a new phase in terms of subject matter and style, shortly after returning from his stay in Paris in 1883, where he may have been inspired.

James Guthrie, A Highland's Funeral, 1881, Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland.
Scottish Impressionists: James Guthrie, A Highland’s Funeral, 1881, Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland.

However, it is possible to glimpse a clear evolution in his style in later works such as A Hind’s Daughter, in terms of the anecdotal, everyday subject matter, but also in the treatment of tonality and brushstroke. This new style culminated in works such as In the Orchard, in which the foliage, trees and grass are painted with a clearly expressionist attitude.

James Guthrie, In the Orchard, 1886,  National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Scottish Impressionists: James Guthrie, In the Orchard, 1886, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland.  

As to John Lavery, he was Irish by birth but he settled in Glasgow after having contemplated Guthrie’s works. He studied in London and Paris, but returned to Glasgow in 1885. Besides Guthrie, Lavery took as his model the precursor of Impressionism, Édouard Manet. At the beginning of his career as a painter, John Lavery made a name for himself as a portraitist of high society. He also painted genre subjects, contemporary scenes such as the Glasgow International Festival of 1888, and landscapes. He pursued the plein-air style and in his artworks he emphasized color and brushstroke, thus opposing traditional forms of painting. As well as many other impressionists, Lavery focused particularly on capturing human figures in movement in the open air.

John Lavery, Paisley Lawn Tennis Club, Paisley Art Institute Collection, held by Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, Paisley, Scotland.
Scottish Impressionists: John Lavery, Paisley Lawn Tennis Club, Paisley Art Institute Collection, held by Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, Paisley, Scotland.

Impressionism was not all about French artists, check out here impressionists from other countries:

Art lover. Constant traveller (almost a nomad). Passionate reader. Rainy days addict. Obssesed with pizza.

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