William McTaggart. Part 2. The later years.

Self portrait (1852)

William McTaggart’s art was likened to Impressionism and yet he was a forerunner of that genre.  He was a pioneer of Impressionism before it was given a label.  It is true that he was fascinated with nature and man’s relationship with it, and he endeavoured to capture aspects such as the fleeting effects of light on water. He also, like the Impressionists, liked to paint en plein air.  This aspect of his work was discussed in an early edition of the Art Journal:

“…A Scottish Impressionist”, points out that “before the term had been imported from France and Monet and the rest had formulated their creed, Mr McTaggart had evolved for himself a method and style not unlike what they ultimately achieved, but exceeding it in suggestion, significance, and beauty…”

As Happy as the Day is Long by William McTaggart (1880)

After the period when McTaggart depicted idyllic scenes populated with young children he turned to landscape and seascape work, the latter being motivated by the love of the sea as a child when he lived close to Machrihanish and the storm ravaged Atlantic coast, often battered by the great and unforgiving ocean.  William McTaggart would visit Machrihanish and paint the bay and the vast expanse of the sea.  He would paint en plein air at different times of the day capturing the understated appeal of the waves as they rolled towards the long continuous stretch of seashore under sunlight with the white streaks of the breaking waves.  Other works depicted the rocky shoreline with just a hint of colour.  In his works such as Machrihanish Bay, his depiction brings out a feeling not just the powerfulness of the sea but the aloneness, two feelings which he recognised would be in the mind of the fishing folk as they went on their daily voyage.

The Storm by William McTaggart (1890)

His 1890 painting entitled The Storm emphasised the darker side of the sea and the perils waiting for those who chose to underestimate or defy it.  As we look at the painting, we can almost hear the howling wind and the sound of the crashing waves upon the rocky foreshore.

The Fishing Fleet Setting Out by William McTaggart (early 1890’st

It has to be noted that in McTaggart’s later paintings, details became secondary to his desire to depict his personal consciousness of nature and the life around him and the effect of differing light on what he saw before him.  An example of this is his early 1890’s painting entitled The Fishing Fleet Setting Out.  We see the children of the fishermen in the foreground almost camouflaged by the rocks. They are playing in the rock pools.   In the far distance we see the fishing fleet setting out to sea.  A detailed depiction of the children was not important to McTaggart who was more interested in the ever-changing state of the sea and the weather.  He has used a pink/cocoa coloured ground which enhances and gives a hazy warmth to the scene.

The Coming of St Columba by William McTaggart (1895)

McTaggart painted numerous seascapes featuring the waters around southern Kintyre.  In 1895 he completed a work entitled The Coming of St Columba.  St Columba had left Ireland on a missionary voyage to Scotland in 563AD.  He and twelve travelling companions travelled across the Irish sea in a wicker boat known as a currach which was covered with leather.  Legend has it that he landed on the south of Kintyre, close to the small village of Southend before journeying onwards north to the Isle of Iona.  In McTaggart’s depiction of the arrival of the saint he has used The Gauldrons instead, as the setting for the work.   The Gauldrons (Scottish Gaelic: Innean nan Gailleann) meaning “Bay of Storms” is a bay facing the Atlantic Ocean in the village of Machrihanish in Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland, a short distance north of the tip of the Mull of Kintyre.  The figures and boats were added in the studio after the landscape was completed

And All the Choral Waters Sang by William McTaggart (1902)

In 1902, he completed another seascape entitled And All the Choral Waters Sang which comes from a line of verse from the famous Victorian poet, Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem, At a Months End:

“…Hardly we saw the high moon hanging,

Heard hardly through the windy night

Far waters ringing, low reefs clanging,

Under wan skies and waste white light.

 

With chafe and change of surges chiming,

The clashing channels rocked and rang

Large music, wave to wild wave timing,

And all the choral water sang…”

The depiction evokes the music of the crashing Atlantic waves on Machrihanish beach. McTaggart’s son-in-law, James Caw, who had married William’s daughter, Anne, said that the work was painted entirely in the open at Machrihanish in June 1902.   In his book, William McTaggart, R.S.A., V.P.R.S.W.; a biography and an appreciation, Caw writes about this work:

“…Both breeze and sunshine pervade the masterpiece, to which Swinburne’s splendidly descriptive line, “And all the Choral Waters sang,” was given as title. Yet, while the mighty music of great waves breaking in many rhythmic chords of thundering surf upon the Atlantic shore is recreated to the imagination by the artist’s wizardry of line and colour and design, one feels as keenly the “Light that leaps and runs and revels through the springing flames of spray.” Looking north-west, the radiant early afternoon sunshine of June falls upon the ordered on-rush of these charging regiments of rearing and plunging white horses sweeping into the long curving bay, and raises their white foaming manes and flying silver tails to a brilliance greater than that of sun-illumined snow. And, between the gleaming lines of racing white, the wind-swept sky throws reflections of vivid changing blues, which, mingling with the lustrous greens amid the leaping waves and the rosy purples and tawnies afloat in the shoreward shooting ripples, make a wonderful and potent colour harmony. Words, however, are woefully inadequate to convey any real impression of this splendid picture — this great sea symphony in colour and light and movement. And, pathetic though “a symphony transposed for the piano” may be, reproduction of such a picture is even more disappointing…”

Playmates, Gracie by William McTaggart

William McTaggart suffered two great losses in 1884.   In November, his mother died, aged 80.  She had been living in Glasgow but had in her latter years returned to Campbeltown.  William had been greatly devoted to his mother and her death had greatly affected him.  During the few days he and his wife had been at Campbeltown his wife’s health, which had been poor, deteriorated.  On returning home they consulted her doctor who recommended an immediate operation and this was carried out immediately.  Sadly, Mrs McTaggart never recovered and on December 15th 1884 she died, aged 47.  William and his children were devastated.  His eldest daughter, Jean, would not let him out of her sight even when he was trying to court his future second wife, Marjorie Henderson.

Belle by William McTaggart (1886)

In 1886 McTaggart completed a portrait of his eldest daughter, Jean.  It was entitled Belle.  She stands before us in a red frock with a lace collar. The painting was owned by Jean’s sisters who later bequeathed it to the National Galleries Scotland in 1991.

Marjorie McTaggart, William McTaggart’s second wife

On April 6th 1886, William McTaggart married Marjory Henderson, who was the eldest daughter of Joseph Henderson, a well-known Glasgow artist, and who, despite their age difference, had forged a close relationship with McTaggart’s eldest daughter, Jean.  William was fifty-one and Marjory was thirty-years of age.  Unfortunately, this large difference in age led to a certain amount of unwelcoming gossip.  However, this second marriage proved an incredibly happy one and, importantly, his new wife was accepted by all the children from his first marriage.  William and Marjorie went on to have a further nine children.  This harmonious atmosphere at home was so important to his progression as an artist

The McTaggart family

By the end of the 1880’s William Taggart’s paintings were selling so well that he started to refuse commissions which meant he was told what to paint.  By doing this he could choose what to depict on his canvases, such as seascapes and landscapes of his choice.  In 1889 all his works held by the art dealer, Dowells, were put up for sale and a total of £4000 was realised, an amazing figure for the time.  In the May of that year he moved from his Edinburgh studio and went to live at Dean Park, Broomieknowe, on the outskirts of Lasswade, Midlothian, some ten miles south east of the Scottish capital.  It was here he built himself a small studio which would last him six years until 1895, at which time, he built a much larger studio/gallery.  He was sixty years old and finally he was able to relax and enjoy semi-retirement.  He lived in an uncomplicated and undemanding manner and often welcomed young aspiring painters to his studio.  He was always supportive and had words of encouragement for them.  William McTaggart died of heart failure, at his home in Dean Park, Broomieknowe, Lasswade on the afternoon of April 2nd 1910 at the age of 75. He had been very poorly during the previous winter but it was still a shock to his family when he suddenly died.  He had spent the last twenty years of his life at his home, Dean Park and although it was somewhat isolated from the artistic hubbub of Edinburgh, William was just pleased to have the company of his large family and visiting friends. 

The Old Fisherman by William McTaggart,

His funeral was held on April 5th at Echo Bank Cemetery in Newington, Edinburgh and was attended by a large crowd with a procession of some twenty mourning coaches leaving Bonnyrigg for the short journey to Edinburgh.  He lies with both his first and second wives: Mary Holmes and Marjory Henderson. Three of his children who died in infancy and are buried with him. His daughter, Annie Mary who married the art historian Sir James Caw, lies alongside. Joseph’s sons John Henderson and Joseph Morris Henderson also became painters as did his fifth daughter from his second marriage, Eliza (Betty) McTaggart.


A good deal of information for this and the previous blog came from the Bonnyrigg Lasswade Local History website:

bonnyrigglasswadelocalhistory.org/

 

William McTaggart. Part 1. The son of a Scottish crofter.

William McTaggart

My featured artist today, William McTaggart, was born in the rural hamlet of Aros, in the parish of Campbeltown, a Scottish town on the Kintyre Peninsula, on October 25th, 1835.  He was born into a family of crofters. He was one of nine children of Dugald and Barbara Brodie McTaggart (née Brolachan).  His father was a farm labourer and it was said that young William would fashion models from the clay which was prevalent in the ground around the farm.  In 1847 his parents arranged for him to become an apprentice to Doctor Buchanan, an apothecary in Campbeltown.  During his apprenticeship he would wile away his spare time sketching and painting, often they would be portraits of the shop’s customers.  Doctor Buchanan must have been impressed by his hard work and his love of art as in 1852, he arranged for William to go to Glasgow and gave him a letter of introduction to the established Scottish portrait artist Daniel MacNee. 

A Life Study of a Seated Male Model by William McTaggart (c.1850’s)

MacNee was also impressed by William McTaggart and began to give him some lessons in artistic techniques. He advised the young man to go to Edinburgh and seek a formal art education.  William took the advice, much to the consternation of his father, and enrolled as a student at the Trustees’ Academy, an establishment which dated back to 1760 and which, in 1907 became the Edinburgh College of Art.  William McTaggart spent seven years at this Edinburgh art school and studied under Robert Scott Lauder, the Scottish Historical painter. It was just what young McTaggart needed.  Here he had found a sense of enthusiasm towards art rather than a cynicism towards the subject which he had encountered at home.  No longer where his artistic aspirations looked upon as being foolish.  He was now not alone when it came to his love of art and had the added advantage of having a skilled tutor to guide him.  This change of environment acted as a stimulus for his enthusiastic nature.  His success at the Academy was down to his artistic talent and his strength of character.

Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857

At the Trustees Academy he won various awards including first prizes for both painting life models and painting antique casts. During his long stay he also attended some of the anatomy classes of John Goodsir at Edinburgh University.  In 1857, along with Paul Chalmers, a fellow Trustees’ Academy student who became a well-known portrait painter, William travelled down to Manchester to visit the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition which comprised over 16,000 works split into various categories, such as Pictures by Ancient Masters, Pictures by Modern Masters, British Portraits and Miniatures, Water Colour Drawings, Sketches and Original Drawings (Ancient), Engravings, Illustrations of Photography, Works of Oriental Art, Varied Objects of Oriental Art, and Sculpture.  It was a monumental exhibition remains and believed to be the largest art exhibition ever to be held in the with over 16,000 works on display.

Machrinhanish Bay by William McTaggart

In numerous biographies of artists who studied in Paris they often travelled to Brittany during their summer vacations but for aspiring Scottish artists studying in their homeland they would often spend their summer holidays across the Irish Sea in Ireland.  Like their French counterparts, whilst enjoying their summer vacation they would paint and try and sell their artwork before returning back home to the new term which had to be paid for.  William McTaggart’s initial painting were portraits and in 1855 he had his first painting, a watercolour portrait of two ladies, unveiled at an Edinburgh exhibition, although previously he had some of his works shown at the Royal Hibernian Society.

The Past and the Present, by William McTaggart (c.1860)

One of McTaggart’s early paintings, completed around 1860, was The Past and The Present depicting the cheery purity of young children and was probably influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters who favoured this type of subject.  McTaggart received the commission for this work from the Glaswegian art collector Robert Craig.  The painting depicts a group of five children of varying age playing innocently in the graveyard of the ruined Kilchousland church on a sunny afternoon.  They show no fear with regards the area which holds the remains of those who have passed away.  The depiction of their innocence negates any thoughts that this is a vanitas painting and yet the title would seem to highlight the transience of life.

Spring by William McTaggart, 1864

After a three-year engagement, William McTaggart married Mary Holmes in Glasgow on June 9th 1863.  They would go on to have six children.   He and his young wife went to Fairlie, a picturesque village which backed on to green pastoral hills which surrounded beautiful wooded glens, on the Ayrshire coast a few miles from Largs. From Fairlie the couple went to London on a brief visit about the end of July, when Mrs. McTaggart met some of her husband’s early friends, and they visited the Royal Academy Exhibition.  However, for William McTaggart, London was not for him and the couple returned to live in Edinburgh.  Soon his family increased and during the following summers he would take his wife and children on family holidays by the sea on the East coast of Scotland, visiting places such as Carnoustie and Broughty Ferry, where he painted many of the local scenes and soon gathered a number of commissions from the local people

Through Wind and Rain by Wiliam McTaggart (1875)

In 1870, McTaggart and his family went on holiday to the small village of Kilkerran, a few miles south of Campbeltown, and close to his birthplace.  It was a working holiday as William loved to paint.  From that year on, William and his family would return to Kintyre visiting Machrihanish, Tarbert, Carradale or Southend. He was a prolific painter and his output was tremendous. His paintings were much sought after and commanded high prices. It is believed at that time he was probably the best open-air painter in Britain.

The Village, White House by William McTaggart (1875)

In 1875 McTaggart completed his painting The Village, Whitehouse.  It was exhibited in the London Royal Academy under the title Twas Autumn and Sunshine arose on the Way.   It was one of many McTaggart paintings which depicted the picturesque small village. It was a tiring journey for the artist to get to Whitehouse as he had to go to Campbeltown and then catch the Campbeltown-Tarbert coach and to achieve all this he had to leave his holiday home at 5.a.m.  It was the last time he exhibited at the Royal Academy as he reasoned that he preferred to be first in his own country rather than be second in any other.

Dora by William McTaggart (1870)

As a student at the Trustees’ Academy, William McTaggart was awarded several prizes.  He also began to exhibit his work at the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy and in 1870 applied to become a full Academician.   To achieve this, he had to pass an interview and submit a diploma piece.  McTaggart’s diploma piece was his 1869 painting entitled Dora.  The painting illustrates a scene from Tennyson’s 1835 poem of the same name.  Dora, the heroine of the poem, waits in the field for the old farmer to acknowledge his grandchild beneath a blaze of summer sunshine.    Dora’s ploy here is to take off the boy’s sun-hat and put a little chain of wildflowers around his head instead, to make him look appealing (although in the poem itself, she puts the flowers round his hat). The grandfather can be seen approaching in the distance. Fortunately, in the end, the child does bring his grandfather round.

The poem reads:

“…But when the morrow came, she rose and took

The child once more, and sat upon the mound;

And made a little wreath of all the flowers

That grew about, and tied it round his hat

To make him pleasing in her uncle’s eye…”

William McTaggart was made an Academician in 1870.  The painting is part of the Scottish National Gallery and is regarded as one of the gems among the Scottish pictures.

Summer Breezes by William McTaggart (1881)

Most of his early works featured figure painting with him concentrating on depictions of children.  A fine example of this early work was McTaggart’s 1881 painting entitled Summer Breezes.  The painting depicts the two daughters of Sir. Thomas McCall Anderson who was a noted and pioneering dermatologist at the Glasgow Western Infirmary and later Regius Professor of Medicine. The background for the picture was painted from sketches made by McTaggart at Machrihanish in August 1880.  His biographer John Craw summed up the painting in his 1917 book William McTaggart R.S.A., V.P.R.S.W., A Biography and an Appreciation.  He wrote:

“…Than the last there is, indeed, nothing more exquisite in the fascinating kind of child portraiture he had made peculiarly his own. Here the two little daughters of Sir T. McCall Anderson, playing barefoot upon the sunlit shore, are grouped beside a great rock. One child, dressed in pale blue and pink, leans against the tawny and golden ridge upon which her smaller white-pinafored sister is perched, and their curly heads come together as they look with delight and wonder at a shell held by the other girl. Beside them, but neglected for the new-found treasure, a rough-haired terrier turns his attention seawards, where not far off a cobble at the salmon nets bobs buoyantly upon the waves, which heave divinely blue and free beneath a brilliant summer sky. Delightful as story, the pictorial treatment is no less charming. The design is happy and pervaded by a rare sense of beauty, the handling and drawing easy, graceful, suggestive, the colour lovely on its high-pitched but full harmony, the whole effect remarkable not only for vividness of lighting but for silvery clearness of tone…”

………………to be continued.

 

The Scottish Colourists, Part 4 – George Leslie Hunter

Cottage, near Largo by G.L.Hunter  (c.1920)
Cottage, near Largo by G.L.Hunter (c.1920)

In my blog today I conclude my look at the group of early twentieth century Scottish artists, who would later be grouped together and known as the Scottish Colourists.  The fourth member of this group was George Leslie Hunter.   Hunter was born in Rothesay, a town on the west coast Scottish Isle of Bute, in 1877.  He was the youngest of five children, born to William Hunter, a chemist by trade and his wife, Jeanie Hunter (née Stewart).  His initial schooling was at Rothesay Academy.  In February 1892, Hunter’s elder sister Catherine died and this was followed shortly after with the death of his elder brother.  Both iwho were in their early twenties were thought to have died from an influenza pandemic which had been sweeping the country.  Although his mother and father had been toying with the idea of emigrating, these tragic events were the final push they needed to leave Scotland and in September that year they set sail for California via New York to start a new life.  The family arrived in California where Hunter’s father bought an orange farm east of Los Angeles.  George enjoyed life in America and spent most of his time sketching and enjoying the favourable Californian climate.   He did not undertake formal art training, and was largely self-taught.  When he was nineteen years of age he managed to get work as an illustrator for some local magazines.  The father’s farming venture lasted just eight years before Hunter’s parents decided to return home to Scotland.  However George, who had developed a love of art, was enjoying life in America so much that he decided not to return with his parents but instead decided to stay on and in 1900 he moved to San Francisco where he became part of the Bohemian lifestyle of the Californian city.   The following year he had some of his artwork exhibited at the California Society of Artists exhibition.

To earn money Hunter illustrated work for the Californian magazines, Overland Monthly and the Sunset magazine.  The latter was a promotional journal for Southern Pacific Transportation Company, designed to combat all the negative publicity regarding the “Wild West” life in California. In 1904 Hunter went to New York with friends and then on to Paris and it was whilst in the French capital that Hunter took up oil painting and became determined to become a professional artist.  On his return to California in 1905, he started to build up a large collection of his work which he intended to exhibit at his first solo exhibition which was to be held at the Mark Hopkins Institute the following year.  However tragedy struck in the form of the great Californian earthquake in April 1906 which devastated San Francisco and destroyed his studio and most of his artwork.

Fruit and Flowers on a Draped Table by G.L.Hunter (1919)
Fruit and Flowers on a Draped Table by G.L.Hunter (1919)

Hunter returned to Glasgow and rejoined his mother.  He continued his self-education as a painter and carried earning a living as an illustrator.  Many of his initial oil paintings were of the still life genre.  He liked to experiment with these works, revelled in the use of colour and often would incorporate the technique used by the Dutch still-life masters, such as Willem Kalf, Jan Davidsz de Heem and the great Willem van Aelst.

Still Life with Nautilus Cup by William Kalf (1662)
Still Life with Nautilus Cup by William Kalf (1662)

These still life painters often composed their colourful depiction of floral and fruit arrangements with a drab and dark background to afford the greatest contrast.  They used the chiaroscuro technique to dramatic effect and for Kalf it was his delightful way in which he  combined in his paintings humble objects such as simple kitchen utensils with luxurious objects such as crystal glassware and exquisite silverware.    Hunter would probably have seen examples of the Dutch masters in the museums of Glasgow and would have found them inspirational for his work.   Although this may be construed as “copying” by Hunter and could be looked upon as a form of plagiarism, in fact it was not, for he was simply studying the great works of art and taking what he had seen back into his own works.

Hunter met fellow Colourist, Samuel Peploe, through mutual friends, the artists, Edward Archibald Taylor and his wife Jessie Marion King when he was in Paris in 1910 but it was over a decade later before the two became close friends.  Hunter’s professional artistic career really started in 1913 when he was fortunate to be introduced to Alexander Reid, an influential Glasgow art dealer.  That year he held his first solo exhibition in Glasgow at Reid’s gallery.   Three years later, in 1916, Hunter exhibits more work at the gallery and later showed at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.  The review of the exhibition in the March edition of the Bailie newspaper commented on Hunter’s work:

“…He has three of four examples of still life that are superlatively strong…. they show a mastery of form and colour that takes one back to the triumphs of the Dutchmen…”

It was through exhibitions like these that Hunter connected with a group of affluent collectors who would continue to buy his works of art over the next fifteen years.

Portrait of Alexnder Reid by Vincent van Gogh (1887)
Portrait of Alexnder Reid by Vincent van Gogh (1887)

During the post-First World War days, Hunter became influenced more and more by the works of the modern French painters he had seen whilst visiting Paris, in particular Matisse, Cezanne and van Gogh.   In 1922 he went on an extended tour of Europe, visiting the French Riviera, Florence and Venice.  Glasgow art dealer Alex Reid and Parisian gallery owner, Ettienne Bignou, were developing a business relationship around this time and decided to stage an exhibition of the works of Peploe, Cadell and Hunter, entitled Les Peintres De l’Ecosse Moderne at the Galerie Barbazanges in June 1924.  Following this Hunter held a joint exhibition the next year with Peploe and Cadell at the Leicester Galleries in London.

Provencal Landscape by George Leslie Hunter (c.1929)
Provencal Landscape by George Leslie Hunter (c.1929)

During the period between 1924 and 1927 Hunter carried out a lot of his work in Fife and around Loch Lomond.  Whether it was due to the cold climate of Scotland or just his desire for the chance to savour the bright light and warm weather in southern France,  he became restless and left Scotland and based himself in the small Provencal village of Sainte-Paul-de-Vence.  From there he would set off on daily sketching trips around the many picturesque Provencal villages.  Most of the paintings he completed were sent back to Alex Reid in Glasgow for him to sell.  In 1929 he made the trip to New York for his exhibition at the Ferargil Galleries, which was critically acclaimed as an outstanding success.  From New York he returned to France but in November 1929 he suffered a breakdown and his health began to deteriorate and he is forced to return to Glasgow where he was looked after by his sister.

Reflections, Balloch by George Leslie Hunter (1930)
Reflections, Balloch by George Leslie Hunter (1930)

During the last couple years of his life Hunter concentrated once again on painting scenes around Loch Lomond and the village of Balloch which is situated at the southern tip of the loch.  He had painted scenes in this area five years earlier but now his later works show a greater clarity and are unfussy in composition.  In his work, entitled Reflections, Balloch, Hunter has concentrated the main focus of the work on the sparkle of light and reflections on the surface of the loch.  Many of these later works featuring the loch also incorporated houseboats and this series of paintings has been acknowledged as some of his best. His fellow colourist Samuel Peploe praised it at this time, saying:

“…that is Hunter at his best, and it is as fine as any Matisse…”

In 1931 Hunter travelled to Paris for the last time so as to be present at the highly successful exhibition Les Peintres Ecossais from which the French government bought a landscape of Loch Lomond for their national collection.  Buoyed by the success of the exhibition, of which he played a leading part, he began to make tentative plans to move from Scotland and go to live in London.  His spirits were high, he believed his luck had changed and he viewed the future with great optimism.  He was quoted at the time as saying:

“…I have been kicking at the door so long and at last it is beginning to open…”

Sadly before he could savour what he believed would be the start of a new life, he died in a Glasgow nursing home in December 1951, aged just 54.

This is my final blog about the four Scottish Colourists.  It cannot be emphasised enough the importance France played in their art.  In the book Scottish Colourists 1900-1930, one of the authors, Elizabeth Cumming, a lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, commented on this fact, writing:

“…Without their French contacts and experience, none of the Scottish Colourists would have developed their art as we know it.  For all, visiting and living in France invested their ideas with a new vision.  For Cadell, it meant developing an empathy with stylistic sophistication.  For Hunter, visiting the south of France especially injected light airiness into his landscapes.  For Peploe, two years of life in Paris opened a door to the intellectual possibilities within traditional subjects.  And for Fergusson, living in France for far longer than any of the others, it became the crux of his existence…”

 

The Scottish Colourists, Part 3 – John Duncan Fergusson

Self-portrait by J.D.Fergusson (1902)
Self-portrait by J.D.Fergusson (1902)

Today I am looking at the third member of the Scottish Colourist group and possibly the most well-known, John Duncan Fergusson, who was born in March 1874 in Leith, a town which is often known as the port of Edinburgh.  He was the eldest of four children of John Fergusson, a spirit merchant and Christina, his mother.  He attended the Royal High School, Edinburgh and Blair Lodge School in Linlithgow.  Following this, in 1892, Fergusson attended the Edinburgh University Medical School to study medicine with the intention of becoming a naval surgeon.  However his lack of application to his studies resulted in him leaving after just two years, at which time, he decided on a complete volte-face and decided to study art at the city’s Trustees Academy School of Art.  Once again, Fergusson did not last long studying at this academy for he left stating that he found it too difficult to reconcile  what he considered to be, their old fashioned and inflexible teaching methods and their rigid curriculum which had been set in stone.   He left the art school and decided to set himself up in his own studio in Picardy Place, Edinburgh and simply teach himself how to paint.

Fergusson knew of the work of the Glasgow Boys and decided to do as they had done, go and study art in Paris which was, at the time, looked upon as the art capital of the world.  In 1895, aged twenty, he enrolled in the life-classes at Académie Colarossi and revelled in the lifestyle of his fellow artists and the whole Paris café society scene.   Fergusson enthusiastically adopted the lifestyle of a Bohemian artist, mixing with the likes of Picasso and Matisse and he could often be seen frequenting the legendary cafés of the time, such as, Le Pre-Catalan Restaurant, the Cage Harcourt and the La Closerie des Lilas and it was in these places, surrounded by his artist acquaintances that he drew so much of his inspiration.   He easily settled into this unrestrictive café society of the Left Bank.  He was surrounded by the work of the Impressionists and would visit the public and private galleries such as Salle Caillebotte at the Musée du Luxembourg, where their works were on display.   Fergusson loved the French capital and for the next ten years spent his summers in Paris and the rest of the time in Edinburgh, where he had established a close productive working relationship with fellow Scottish Colourist, Samuel Peploe.   In 1897 Fergusson exhibited some of his work at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and the following year, spent time in central France, painting at the artists’ colony of Grez-sur-Loing, a small commune seventy kilometres south of Paris.   This River Loing setting often featured in the works of Alfred Sisley.  In 1899 Fergusson decided to go to Morocco and follow in the footsteps of Arthur Melville, the Scottish painter, who was famed for his Orientalist works, and who is now looked upon as being one of the most powerful influences in the contemporary art of his day.

Mademoiselle Dryden by J.D.Fergusson (1908)
Mademoiselle Dryden by J.D.Fergusson (1908)

It was during a painting trip at the seaside resort of Paris-Plage, in the summer of 1907 that Fergusson met two American ladies, Anne Estelle Rice and Elizabeth Dryden.   Elizabeth Dryden was an American writer and critic who had been sent to Paris in 1905 by her employer, the Philadelphia department store magnate, Lewis Rodman Wanamaker, to write fashion reviews for his Philadelphia department store trade magazine.   These reviews would then be illustrated by her friend Anne Estelle Rice, who was a sculptor and artist and who had worked as an illustrator on a number of magazines.   Both women featured in a number of paintings by Fergusson and he became great friends with them and Anne Estelle Rice later became Fergusson’s mistress.  In his 1908 painting of Elizabeth Dryden entitled Mademoiselle Dryden, Fergusson has depicted her clad not in the latest fashion but wearing a simple red scarf to keep out the chill with a painter’s smock worn loosely around her shoulders.

Rhythm by J.D. Fergusson (1911)
Rhythm by J.D. Fergusson (1911)

After his fully clothed portraits of Rice and Dryden it is quipped that from then on all his sitters had to remove their clothes and be in a state of undress!  In 1910, the English writer and critic, John Middleton Murray visited Fergusson’s Edinburgh studio.  He was about to launch a new literary, arts and critical review magazine.

Rhythm magazine cover
Rhythm magazine cover

Murray wanted to name the magazine after one of Fergusson’s paintings and have a drawing of it on the front cover.   Fergusson’s painting of a female nude was entitled Rhythm and that became the magazine’s title.  The cover of the magazine was elephant grey with Fergusson’s strong image of a naked woman sitting under a tree with an apple in her hand printed on it in black ink.  Fergusson became its art editor and through his many contacts in the art world was able to persuade artists such as Derrain, Picasso, and Delauny to provide illustrations for the magazine.  Anne Estelle Rice was also a regular contributor to the periodical.

Fergusson loved life in France and all the opportunities it afforded him to paint.  In the summers Fergusson would go on holiday and would often meet up with Peploe and his family in Brittany or Cassis in the south of France and for a short time Fergusson lived at Cap d’Antibes.

On his return to Paris he accepted the position as teacher at the Académie de la Palette and set up his studio in Montparnasse.  Fergusson was very happy with life at this time.  His long term partner Margaret Morris, whom he met in 1913, quoted Fergusson’s words describing his satisfaction with his Montparnasse studio and life in general in her 1974 book,  The Art of J.D.Fergusson:

“… [it was] comfortable, modern and healthy.   My concierge most sympathetic.  Life was as it should be and I was very happy.  The Dome, so to speak, round the corner; L’Avenue quite near; the Concert Rouge not far away – I was very much interested in music; the Luxembourg Gardens to sketch in; Colarossi’s class if I wanted to work from the model.  In short everything a young painter could want…”

Fergusson had met the dancer, choreographer, Margaret Morris in 1913.   She is now recognised for her pioneering work in modern dance.  She ran a dance school in London and that year had taken her dance troupe to Paris to dance at the Marigny Theatre on the Champs Elysees.  Fergusson and Morris later married and he became Art Director of all her MMM (Margaret Morris Movement) schools.  Fergusson and Morris were to remain together for almost fifty years.  The two built up a collection of friends from the literary greats of the time such as the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the American ex-pat poet, Ezra Pound and the English writer and painter Wyndham Lewis.  Fergusson now had two homes and two distinct lives.  He had his base in Paris and the painting trips to the south of the country and he had the chance to stay with friends back in Britain, whether it was Samuel Peploe and his family in Edinburgh or his new friend Margaret Morris in London.

Christmas Time in the South of France by J.D.Fergusson (1922)
Christmas Time in the South of France by J.D.Fergusson (1922)

With the outbreak of the First World War he returned to Britain and, for the next four years, had to suffer the financial hardship brought about by the lack of sales of his work during the period of conflict.  After the war, he set up his own studio in London and this remained his base for the next ten years.  He exhibited his work on a regular basis and in 1928 he had four major exhibitions: in Chicago, London, Glasgow and New York.  In 1929, he along with Margaret Morris, returned to his beloved France and he set up his studio near the Parc de Montsouris, in Paris,  but always in the summers they made the trek south to live at Cap d’Antibes.  In 1939, at the start of the Second World War, Fergusson and Morris return to Britain and set up home in Glasgow and it was here that Fergusson spent the last years of his life.

Throughout his life Fergusson had rebelled against formal academic art and he now found himself a slightly beleaguered figure, who was neither a part of the academic fold nor was he welcomed by the Royal Scottish Academy.   Fergusson and his wife, Margaret Morris were leading lights in the Glasgow artistic scene and Fergusson did have his followers as many much younger artists were drawn to him and his art.  In 1940, he decided to form the New Art Club, and out of this emerged the New Scottish Group of painters of which he was the first president.

John Duncan Fergusson died in Glasgow in 1961, aged 87.   Throughout his life, whether he lived and worked in Paris, Antibes, London or Glasgow, his art was infused by his rebellious and independent nature.  He always maintained his belief in freedom of expression and his fervent commitment to a modern, non-academic art world.  He was a lover of colour which was summed up by a quote from him, recorded in William MacLellan’s 1943 book entitled J. D. Fergusson, Modem Scottish Painting.  Fergusson was quoted as saying:

“…Everyone in Scotland should refuse to have anything to do with black or dirty and dingy colours, and insist on clean colours in everything.   I remember when I was young any colour was considered a sign of vulgarity. Greys and blacks were the only colours for people of taste and refinement. Good pictures had to be black, grey, brown or drab. Well! let’s forget it, and insist on things in Scotland being of colour that makes for and associates itself with light, hopefulness, health and happiness…”

The Scottish Colourists – Part 2, Francis Cadell

Self Portrait by Francis Cadell (c.1914)
Self Portrait by Francis Cadell (c.1914)

In my last blog, I introduced you to the four painters who would later become known as the Scottish Colourists.  In that first blog I looked at the life of Samuel Peploe and today I am concentrating on the life and works of another member of the group, Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell.   Cadell was born in Edinburgh in April 1883.  His father was Francis Cadell, an Edinburgh surgeon and his mother was Mary Boileau, a lady of French extraction.  His sister was Jean Cadell,  who would later become a well-known character actress.   As a boy, Cadell showed an aptitude for drawing and was educated at the Edinburgh Academy where he studied art.  When he was sixteen years of age and had completed his studies, on the advice of the Scottish landscape and figure painter, Arthur Melville, who was also the godfather to Cadell’s younger brother, Cadell went to Paris, chaperoned by his mother,  in order to study art at the Académie Julian.   He remained at the Academy for three years, during which time his exposure to the works of French artists of the time was to have an intense and enduring effect on his paintings.   During his first year at the Academy he was delighted to have one of his watercolours accepted for exhibiting at that year’s Paris Salon.  Whilst he was studying in the French capital he met one of the other Scottish Colourists, Samuel Peploe, and the two soon became friends.  The artwork of Peploe, who was twelve years his senior, was to prove to be a great influence on his work.

Mythical Scene by Francis Cadell (c.1907)
Mythical Scene by Francis Cadell (c.1907)

Cadell returns to Scotland in 1902 and, for the first time, exhibited work at the Royal Scottish Academy.  The genre of his works was varied.  He painted portraits as well as landscapes and also dabbled with mythical subjects, such as his work entitled Mythical Scene which he completed around 1907.  In 1906 he and his family moved to Munich and the following year he enrolled at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich.  A year later, in 1908, his mother died and the family returned home to Edinburgh.  That year, Cadell held his first one-man show at the gallery of the Edinburgh picture dealers, Doig, Wilson and Wheatley.  Cadell remained in Edinburgh until 1914, with just a brief time away on a painting trip to Venice, a city, which provided him with the ideal setting for his natural aptitude as a colourist.  Cadell loved everything about Edinburgh and was impressed by the city’s buildings.  He loved the beautiful architecture and the sumptuous interiors of some of the houses.  He was also very much in love with the stylishness and sophistication of its people and wanted to be part of that world.  In 1909, having established himself within Edinburgh society as a colourful, witty and entertaining host, he moved his studio to Great George Street and it was within the lavish interior of his residence that he held his regular soirées and entertained the “beautiful people” of Edinburgh.

Many of his paintings, which he completed in his Edinburgh studio before the war and during the 1920’s, often featured elegant female sitters with the backdrop, the interior of his impressive studio and these works were to become some of his best loved.  Cadell spent much time over the decoration and furnishing of his residence and before the war and throughout the 1920s, most of the paintings that he made at home centred on depictions of his studios or arrangements of elegant female models or still life objects within them. The works of the immediate pre-war period conjure up a sense of the refined lifestyle of Edinburgh’s upper-class, depicted with a palette which brightened as the war approached.

Iona by Francis Cadell
Iona by Francis Cadell

In 1912, Cadell made his first visit to the small Western Isle of Iona and fell in love with the beauty of the wild landscape.  He found it an ideal place for painting because of the light, the colours of the white sand beaches and blue skies, and Iona’s geological diversity resulting in differing coloured rock formations.  The rapid changing weather conditions around this area meant an en plein air artist had to work swiftly, but it was all worthwhile as the numerous stunning views provided plenty of incentive for keen artists.   The island of Iona is low-lying and this results in the light reflected from the surrounding sea intensifying the colour of the water as well as the green of its pastureland.  However, Cadell was of the opinion that any artist with any real sense of colour could only paint in Scotland during the summer and so he chose to work on Iona during the summer months, usually en plein air, and he would remain in Edinburgh and work in his studio during the darker days of spring and early autumn.   A fine example of his Iona paintings highlighting the differing colours of the sea, rocks and sand was completed by him in 1920 and simply entitled Iona.  After the First World War, Cadell would make annual pilgrimages to the island.   He was not the only artist at the time to be drawn to the beauty of this Inner Hebridean Island as it attracted many other artists, including the Scottish Colourists, Peploe and Fergusson, and the Scottish landscape artist, John MacLauchlin Milne.  In 1912 Cadell founded the Society of Eight.  This was a group of like-minded artists, who rejected the artistic establishment of the day and, whose work was characterised by the use of bright colours.

In 1914 he applied to join the army but was turned down on medical grounds so for the next few months he took work on a farm as a labourer with the intention of improving his physical condition and fitness.   All the exercise must have worked for in 1915 he re-applied to join the army and this time he was accepted and became a member of the 9th Argyll, 9th Royal Scots and the Sutherland Highlanders.

Portrait of a Lady in Black by Francis Cadell
Portrait of a Lady in Black by Francis Cadell

In 1921 Cadell completed one of his most popular works entitled Portrait of a Lady in Black.  The sitter for this painting was his long-time muse, the enigmatic and mysterious, Miss Bethia Don Wauchope, who over a period of fifteen years, posed for twenty five paintings by Peploe and Cadell.   In this work the setting is almost certainly the artist’s Ainslie Place studio in Edinburgh which Cadell had moved to the previous year.   Miss Bethia Don Wauchope was a wealthy heiress of independent means.   Little is known about Cadell’s muse accept that she was the eldest of four daughters, who never married and her father was Sir John Don-Wauchope, chairman of the Board of Education and Board of Lunacy.  There is no doubt that she loved the thought of being immortalised in paintings.   This was one of Cadell’s favourite works and we know he loved to work with Bethia  as he went on to create a series of paintings with the theme ‘Lady in a Black Hat’, which included, Black Hat, Miss Don Wauchope, The Black Hat and  in 1925 (Lady in Black) and 1926 (Interior, the Orange Blind).

The Harbour, Cassis by Francis Cadell (1924)
The Harbour, Cassis by Francis Cadell (1924)

In 1923 Cadell embarked on a painting trip to the beautiful small seaside town of Cassis, on the French Mediterranean coast. The following year he produced some of his most radiant Colourist works while staying with fellow Colourist, Peploe.   One of the works he painted there in 1923/4 was entitled The Harbour, Cassis and cleverly reflects the harsh Mediterranean light and the effect it has the surrounding buildings.  Here the sun is so intense and the colours more vibrant.  It is truly an artist’s paradise.  (I was fortunate to visit this idyllic place a few years ago and was amazed by its charm and beauty).

Like most good things in life – they seem to have to end, and for Francis Cadell his lavish lifestyle in Edinburgh, which we saw reflected in many of his paintings of elegant women and opulent interiors,  came to an end with the decline of the art market during the economic downturn of the late 1920s.  Cadell, who had led a somewhat pampered and indulgent way of life was, like many others, badly affected financially and he was forced to sell part of his multi-storeyed Ainslie Place property.  Things deteriorated further in the early 1930’s and sales of his works dwindled and he was even forced to move to a less expensive and salubrious residence.

In 1935 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Watercolours and the following year he was made an Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy.   Sadly, by 1936, his health was starting to decline and the following year, 1937, Cadell died, aged 54, the cause being given as cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.

The Scottish Colourists – Part 1, S.J.Peploe

Self-portrait by S.J.Peploe (c.1900)
Self-portrait by S.J.Peploe (c.1900)

It has often been the case that artists have been compartmentalised into groups which is then given an elaborate name.  The name is, more often or not, one which has not been made up by them but has come from an external source.  We know that Monet, Renoir, Degas and Sisley, to name just a few, did not sit around a French café table and come up with the name Impressionists for their group.  In fact the name Impressionists came from Louis Leroy, the art critic, journalist and some time contributor to the illustrated Parisian newspaper, Le Charivari.   In 1874, he had gone along to an exhibition of works by a group of artists which was being held at the photographer Nadar’s studio in the French capital.  The group of painters called themselves the Société anonyme des peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs, (The Anonymous society of painters, sculptors and engravers).  One of the paintings being exhibited was Claude Monet’s 1872 work entitled Impression: Soleil levant (Impression: Sunrise).  The title of Leroy’s review, in the April 27th edition of le Charivari, Exhibition of Impressionists, was taken directly from the title of Monet’s work.  Leroy’s review took the form of a fictional dialogue between two people who were viewing the exhibits with a measure of cynicism and disbelief at what they saw.     Commenting on Monet’s work one said:

 “…Impression I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it — and what freedom, what ease of workmanship!   A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape…”

Another example of this naming of a group of artists by somebody from outside the circle was that of the Fauves   The Fauves were a small group of artists who in the early 1900’s burst onto the French art scene with their wild, vibrant style that shocked their critics.  The name of the group was not thought up by the artists of the group such as Matisse, Derrain or Vlaminck but the term came from the influential but acerbic French art critic, Louis Vauxcelles, who first gave the group of painters the name les Fauves (the wild beasts).  The name came from a comment he made when he went to see the 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibition.  Their paintings were on display in the same room as a classical sculpture by Donatello.  Vauxcelles decried their offerings in comparison to the classical sculpture by saying that the sculpture was Donatello parmi les fauves (Donatello amongst wild beasts).

 In my next couple of blogs I am going to look at the works of four Scottish painters who were influenced by the French Impressionists and Fauvists and who exhibited their works in the early part of the twentieth century. It was not until almost twenty years later, in 1948, that the four painters were grouped together under the name “The Scottish Colourists” by the director of the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow, Dr. Tom Honeyman, by which time three of the four painters were dead.  The four artists, often referred to by just the initials of their Christian names and their surnames, were Francis Campbell Boileau (F.C.B.) Cadell, Samuel John (S.J.) Peploe, John Duncan (J.D.) Fergusson and George Leslie (G.L.) Hunter.  This group of painters took up the mantle of Scottish art previously held by the group of Scottish painters, known as the Glasgow Boys, in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

S.J. Peploe, the eldest of the four, was born in Edinburgh in 1871.  He was the son of Robert Luff Peploe, an assistant secretary of the Commercial Bank of Scotland and his second wife, Anne.  He was educated at the Collegiate School in Edinburgh.  He was undecided as to what future path he should take and after finishing at school.  At one time he thought a military career was the career he wanted.  Then he considered a career in the church and ended up with a position as an apprentice in the Edinburgh legal firm of Scott & Glover.  He was unhappy in that work and decided to become an artist and in 1891 enrols at the Edinburgh School of Art.  Three years later Peploe heads for Paris to broaden his artistic education, where he lodges with another Scottish artist who was studying in Paris, the Aberdeen–born painter, Robert Brough who had been a fellow student with Peploe in Edinburgh.  In 1894 Peploe begins his studies at L’Académie Julian under the French Academic painter, William Bouguereau and at L’Académie Colarossi.  In 1895 Peploe visited Holland and is fascinated by the works of Frans Hals and brought back a number of reproductions of the Dutch artist’s works which he puts on the walls of his lodgings.

The Green Blouse by Samuel Peploe (c. 1904)
The Green Blouse by Samuel Peploe (c. 1904)

One of Peploe’s works which shows the influence of Frans Hals was a painting Peploe completed around 1904 entitled The Green Blouse.  The sitter for this portrait was Jeannie Blyth, a gypsy flower seller.  Peploe had used this teenager on a number of occasions.  It is thought that her dark colouring and total “at ease” attitude, as a sitter, made her the perfect model.

In 1895 Peploe returns to Scotland and takes up lodgings there and acquires a studio in Edinburgh.  He enrols in the Royal Scottish Academy life classes and went on to be awarded the Maclaine Watters medal for winning the RSA Art Prize.   The following year he exhibits work at both the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh and the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.  Besides these two great artistic establishments there were other chances for up-and-coming new artists to exhibit their works.  One such place was the private gallery of the Edinburgh fine art dealers, Aitken Dott & Son who afforded Peploe his first solo exhibition in 1903.  Later, the other three Scottish Colourists would have solo exhibitions at this establishment.   In the summer of 1905 Peploe and fellow Scottish Colourist, Fergusson travel to Brittany on a painting trip and carry on their artistic tour taking in the sights of Dieppe, Paris and Paris-Plage.

The Lobster by S.J.Peploe (c.1903)
The Lobster by S.J.Peploe (c.1903)

It was around this time that Peploe started to paint still-lifes.  Peploe spent large amount time in the preparation for his still-life works even though the subject matter itself was not complicated.  His brother in law Frederick Porter wrote about Peploe’s obsession with his detailed preliminaries before starting painting and his struggle for perfection.  He wrote:

“… All his still lifes were carefully arranged and considered before he put them on canvas.  When this was done – it often took several days to accomplish – he seemed to have absorbed everything necessary for transmitting them to canvas.   The result was a canvas covered without any apparent effort.   If a certain touch was wrong it was soon obliterated by the palette knife.  The whole canvas had to be finished in one painting so as to preserve complete continuity.  If, in his judgement, it was not right then the whole painting was scrapped and painted again…”

The Lobster was one of Peploe’s still life paintings which he completed around 1903 and in this work there is a sense of drama in the way he has contrasted the strongly coloured objects against a dark background.  Look at the unusual way Peploe has included his vertical signature in the right hand side of the painting.  In some ways it looks like a vertical column of Japanese script and the colour scheme used, red, yellow and black as well as the sheen of the work affords it an effect which is very like the Japanese lacquer-work.  A few blogs ago, I talked about how all things Japanese had become very popular in the late nineteenth century in Europe.  This “craze” known as Japonisme was also becoming popular in Britain, and due to the Japonisme works of Whistler, it was influencing many artists including painters from Scotland, such as the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists.

In 1910 Peploe married Margaret Makay and the couple moved to Paris.  His son Willy was born that year.  He remained in France and carries on with his painting.  In June 1912 Peploe moves his family from Paris and takes up residence in Edinburgh and in 1914 his second son, Denis is born.   In 1917 after a number of solo exhibitions he is elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy and ten years later is elected as a member of the Royal Scottish Academy.  In 1928 he has an exhibition in New York at the Kraushaar Galleries.  In 1933, as well as continuing with his own painting, he taught the advanced life-class students at Edinburgh College.

 Samuel John (S.J.) Peploe died in October 1935, aged 64.

In my next blog I will look at the life of Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell, another of the Scottish Colourists.

Jacob and Rachel by William Dyce

Jacob and Rachel by William Dyce (1853)

The first time I featured a painting by William Dyce was over twelve months ago (My Daily Art Display, May 14th 2011) when I looked at his painting Pegwell Bay, or to give it its full and bizarre title, Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858.   To find out why the painting had such a strange title you will have to check back on the earlier blog.

William Dyce was born in Aberdeen in 1806. His father was a fellow of the Royal Society and an eminent physician.  Dyce attended the Marischal College, which is now part of the University of Aberdeen.  He trained as a doctor before reading for the church. However the course of his life changed when aged nineteen he decided to become an artist and enrolled at the Royal Scottish Academy Schools in Edinburgh and later as a probationer at the Royal Academy of London.   At the age of nineteen he made his first trip to Rome and stayed there for nine months studying the works of the great Masters such as Titian, Rembrandt and Poussin.  He returned to Aberdeen but the following year he went back to Rome and this time stayed for eighteen months.   During this second visit to the Italian capital he met the German painter, Friedrich Overbeck, who was one of the leading artists of the Nazarene Movement.   The Nazarene Movement was made up of a group of early 19th century German Romantic painters who aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art. The name Nazarene came from a term of derision used against them for their affectation of a biblical manner of clothing and hair style.

By 1829 Dyce was back in Scotland and settled in Edinburgh for several years.  To survive financially he would carry out many portraiture commissions but his main love was his religious, history and narrative paintings.   In 1837, he was appointed Master of the School of Design of the Board of Manufactures in Edinburgh and produced a pamphlet on the management of schools like the one he was working at and this was well received, so much so, that he was transferred to London as superintendent and secretary of the recently established Government School of Design at Somerset House, which was later to become the Royal College of Art.   In 1844 he was appointed Professor of Fine Art in King’s College, London, and became an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy, and in 1848 elected to become a  Royal Academician.

In 1850 Dyce married Jane Brand who was twenty-five years younger than him.  They went on to have four children.   He died at Streatham, Surrey in 1864, aged 58.

Today I am looking at a completely different type of painting by the artist in comparison to his seaside painting, Pegwell Bay.  This is a religious painting entitled The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel.  There were about four versions of this work by Dyce,  each of different size and with minor alterations but this one, which was completed by him in 1853,  is now housed in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg.  This was the original work and the only one which had a vase resting on the edge of the well.  The painting proved so popular with the public that Dyce commissioned Holman Hunt to make copies of it.

The painting is based on a story from the Old Testament book of Genesis (29: 9-14):

9 While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. 12 He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.  13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”

This painting, Meeting of Jacob and Rachel, depicts the point in time just before Jacob kissed Rachel, and as the biblical text quotes the experience was so memorable, he lifted up his voice, and wept.  Jacob had fallen in love, at first sight, with this beautiful young woman, when he saw her standing at the well about to give water to her father’s flock of sheep.   Look at the way Dyce has portrayed Jacob.  The young man having just cast his eyes on his cousin is besotted with her.  He leans towards her almost balancing on one leg.  Look at his demeanour.  Look at the intensity of his expression as he looks into Rachel’s face. Look at his eagerness.   His emotions seem to be getting the better of him.  He clutches Rachel’s right hand and press it against his heart.  Maybe he wants her to feel how it is beating wildly.  His left hand rests on the nape of her neck.  He caresses her neck gently and at the same time his hand will guide her face towards his so that he may kiss her.  Now look at Rachel.  See how her expression differs from that of Jacob.  Her eyes are cast downwards in a gesture of modesty or is it coyness?  She cannot meet Jacob’s gaze.  The top half of her body leans away from Jacob and she steadies herself by placing her left hand on the well.

So does this meeting of man and woman result in a happy ending?  Well yes and no!   Rachel’s father, Laban was quite cunning and realised that Jacob was a young and strapping lad who could help out on the farm and so he offered him the hand of Rachel in the future, providing he would work for him.  Jacob agreed and worked for Laban for fourteen years without payment in the hope of getting the father’s blessing for his marriage to his daughter.  Then Laban made another condition for this marriage.  He wanted Jacob to first marry Rachel’s elder sister, Leah, after which he would be able to have Rachel as his wife.

So this is not just a story about young love but also a story of patient love and the way Jacob was willing to wait for Rachel.   This may have been uppermost in Dyce’s mind as it mirrored his relationship with his wife-to-be Jane Bickerton Brand who was born in 1831, for he was made to wait for her hand in matrimony as she was so young when they first met and the age difference of twenty-five years obviously further concerned her father.  William Dyce did wait and they did marry,  so all ended happily.

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons by Allan Ramsay

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons by Allan Ramsey (c.1764)

Britain is very fortunate to have so many art galleries.  Although if one lives in London I suppose one has the cream of the crop but dotted throughout the land there are some excellent art establishments.  One of the richest collection of art works is owned by the monarch and is held in trust for her successors and the nation.   There are more than 7000 paintings within the Royal Collection as well as thousands of watercolours, prints and drawings.  The collection is not held in just one place, Buckingham Palace, but is spread around the royal residences, such as Windsor Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Balmoral Castle, Hampton Court and Sandringham House.   The total collection is estimated to be worth around ten billion pounds.  My Daily Art Display today features a painting from the Royal Collection which hangs in Buckingham Palace.  It is entitled Queen Charlotte and her Two Eldest Sons by the Scottish portrait painter Allan Ramsay, which he completed around 1764.

Allan Ramsay was born in Edinburgh in 1713.  He was the eldest son of Allan Ramsay who was a poet and writer.  After completing his schooling in Scotland he moved to London when he was twenty years of age and studied art under the tutelage of Hans Hysing, the Swedish portrait painter and later was a student at the St Martin’s Lane Academy, which was the precursor to the present day Royal Academy.  In 1736, aged twenty-three he travelled to Rome and Naples to further his art education and he remained for almost three years.  On returning to Britain he went to Scotland and settled down in Edinburgh.

In 1739 he married his first wife, Anne Bayne, and the couple had three children but none survived childhood and his wife died during the birth of their third child in 1743.    Allan Ramsay supplemented his income from his paintings by teaching art and one of his pupils was Margaret Lindsay the eldest daughter of the nobleman Sir Alexander Lindsay of Evelick.  As a humble artist her parents frowned on their liaison outside of art tuition and knowing that, the couple eloped and were married in secret.  Her parents never forgave her for marrying lower than her station.  Allan Ramsey, in an attempt to ease their minds about how he would care for their daughter and that he had married their daughter for love and not for their money, wrote to them explaining that although he had to support his daughter from his first marriage along with his two sisters, he was well placed financially to look after their daughter.  Her parents were unmoved by his words.  The couple lived a happy life and went on to have two daughters and a son.

The devoted couple spent three years in Italy from 1754 to 1757, where they both spent time painting and copying old Masters and whilst there they would earn an income by painting portraits of the wealthy aristocratic travelers who were doing the Grand Tour of Europe.  They returned to Britain and went to live in London and in 1761, Allan Ramsey was appointed Principal Painter in Ordinary to George III.   The title of Principal Painter in Ordinary to the King or Queen of England was awarded to a number of artists, nearly all of whom were portraitists.  It was in this role that he completed many paintings of the royal couple and their children.  .

 So before us we have Queen Charlotte and two of her children but who was Charlotte and where did she come from?  Sophia Charlotte was born in 1744 and was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and his wife Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen.  When King George III came to the throne it was decided that he should seek to marry someone of royal descent who would be use to life at court but would also have to be somebody who would be popular with the people of Britain.  Many of the ladies that George would have liked to have married were deemed, much to the monarch’s annoyance, unsuitable and inappropriate and he had to reluctantly agree to “look elsewhere” !    Eventually a royal match was made, when David Graeme, a British soldier, diplomat and courtier, who had visited many of the royal courts of Europe, reported back to the British that he had found an ideal marriage partner for George.   She was Princess Sophia Charlotte.

In 1761, when she seventeen years old, she married George III of England and at that young age became the queen consort of  the United Kingdom. With the marriage came stipulations which she had to agree to.  Firstly, she must become an Anglican and secondly, she had to promise not to become involved in the politics of the country.  George III bought Buckingham House in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte and it was here that fourteen of the fifteen children of theirs were born.  Charlotte was an extremely intelligent woman.     From her letters we can see that she was well read and loved the fine arts. The Queen was very musical and is known to have been taught music by Johann Christian Bach.   Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at aged eight, dedicated his Opus 3 piece to the Queen at her request.  She had a love of plants and trees and helped to establish Kew Gardens.       The Christmas tree was introduced to England by the Queen who had the first one in her house, in 1800.  The royal couple were very much in love with one another but sometimes for the young girl, suddenly having to take on the responsibility of queen consort, was trying but she always took her duties seriously.   In a letter to her younger brother, she wrote:

“…I find that the solitary and retiring life which I lead is not made for me. Having admitted this I assure you I shall not ignore my duty…”

My Daily Art Display today features one of Ramsay’s paintings of Queen Charlotte and her two eldest sons, George, who was Prince of Wales and was later to become George IV and Frederick, Duke of York.  As we have seen in other paintings despite the two children being male they were dressed in, what today, we would term girl’s clothing.  The elder son, George, stands with his bow in his hand and in the left side of the picture, we can see his drum.  These accoutrements have been added by the artist to symbolise George’s future soldierly spirit.  His mother Charlotte has her foot on a foot-stool and leans against a piano.  On the piano we have a sewing box and a copy of John Locke’s book Some Thoughts concerning Education.  At the time, this book, a treatise on education,  was considered the most important philosophical work on education in England and it was translated into almost all of the major written European languages during the eighteenth century.  The setting of this painting and the items depicted in it all add up to a compassionate relationship between a mother and her children and illustrate how she spent time with them whilst they were at play and how important family life was to them.

It is a lovely portrait of a mother and her children.  It is full of compassion and the smiles on their faces have put across the impression of happiness and fulfillment.

Springtime in Eskdale by James McIntosh Patrick

Springtime in Eskdale by James McIntosh Patrick (1934)

My Daily Art Display for today features another painting by a twentieth century British artist.  Today’s painting entitled Springtime in Eskdale was painted by the Scottish landscape artist and etcher James McIntosh Patrick in 1934.

James McIntosh Patrick was born in Dundee in 1907.  His father, an architect, encouraged his son’s interest in art and when he was 17 had him enrol as a second-year student at the Glasgow School of Art.   Later in 1926, he and one of his teachers, Maurice Grieffenhagen, had a three month summer vacation in the South of France working on paintings of the local landscape.  After he completed his studies he started off his working life as an etcher but in the 1930’s the demand for this type of work dwindled and Patrick began to concentrate on watercolour and oil painting.  The art genre he loved was that of landscape painting.   At the beginning, he would go out into the countryside make many sketches and bring them back to his studio and use them to complete his oil or watercolour painting.  It was not until later on that he perfected his style and technique in en plein air painting.  He believed this to be the best way to paint landscapes saying that it encouraged people to appreciate nature itself as they sat and painted. He was once quoted as saying:

“…I don’t suppose there is much sentimentality about my paintings, but I have a deep feeling that Nature is immensely dignified when you are out of doors.  I am struck by the dignity of everything…”

 “…..As I got to know the countryside better and better, I came to realise that rhythmic ideas are inside you and so you go around looking for landscapes where the countryside fits a preconceived idea that you have inside you and which you recognise when you see it. In other words, a twisted bit of wood, a wall or a gate, immediately causes you to say; ah, that’s the bit I am looking for… It is much easier to make up a picture than to paint nature as it appears before us…”

 He had many of his paintings shown at the Royal Academy.  The outbreak of the Second World War and his call-up into the Army Camouflage Corps curtailed his painting career for five years but when it ended he returned with his wife and family to his house in Dundee, which he had purchased before the start of war.  Their house overlooked the River Tay and it was at this time that he started experimenting with outdoor landscape painting.  His paintings were of the traditional variety in as much as “what you got is what you see” as he had no time for the “contemporary” interpretations of landscapes.  He taught art up until his eighties and continued painting up until his last few years when his eyesight began to fail.  His love for his native county of Angus was well documented in all his paintings of that area.  His depiction of the scenic countryside was shown in all types of weather conditions and at different times of the year.

Art historians rank James McIntosh Patrick as one of the greatest painters Scotland produced in the twentieth century and his artistic brilliance was a match for most of Europe’s best landscape painters of the twentieth century.  He died in Dundee, the town where he was born, in 1998, aged 91.

Today’s featured painting, Springtime in Eskdale, is a detailed landscape painting of The Crooks in Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire which was the birthplace of the famous civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford.  This painting by Patrick was completed in 1934 and was to mark the centenary of Telford’s death.  In the middle ground we can see people visiting a cottage whilst further back we can just make out a farmer ploughing his land.  Further back we see a small river at the foot of a line of hills, which rise into the background.  The artist’s view of the scene is from a somewhat elevated position looking down at the farmland.

I love the stone wall divisions we see in the painting.  Although I am not familiar with the location of the painting, it does remind me so much of the countryside landscape of Yorkshire with its multi coloured patchwork-quilt fields separated by dry-stone walls.  We are not looking solely at the element of Nature but we are seeing the man-made design element of stone walls, a cottage with its out-buildings and the ploughed field and how the two elements blend so perfectly.  The choice of season for the setting of this painting could well have come from the print publisher, Harold Dickens, who had seen the success of Patrick’s earlier work entitled Winter in Angus, which was in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1935  and Autumn Kinnorby and Midsummer in East Fife.

The inclusion of a road in the foreground encourages us to follow it with our eyes and thus explore the middle and background.  One of the most well-defined aspects of the painting is the way he has painted the trees.  He was a great believer that they were one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind and he would put a lot of effort into their depiction in order for us to be more appreciative of what Mother Nature has bestowed upon us.  This painting was a result of many sketches he had made of the area and in some ways was a “slightly idealised” view of the landscape produced partly from his sketches and partly from what he could remember about the area.

Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858 by William Dyce

Pegwell Bay, A Recollection of October 5th 1858 by William Dyce

My Daily Art Display for today is entitled Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858,  by the distinguished Scottish artist, William Dyce.   This painting, which he completed four years before his death, is often considered to be his greatest work of art.   The title of the painting itself is unusual but the specific date must have stuck in the mind of the artist, probably for astronomical reasons which I will talk about later.  This is a lovely painting and for me it brings back many happy childhood memories of my early years when my mother would whisk me away to the seaside for a week each summer and I would be content (or as content as a pre-teenage child can be) to simply potter about the rock pools with my bucket, spade and net.

William Dyce was born in Aberdeen in 1806.  He trained as a doctor before reading for the church.  However at the age of nineteen he decided to become an artist and studied at the Royal Academy in London.  In his twenties, he travelled to Rome.  Here he studied the works of the “Masters” such as Titian, Rembrandt and Poussin and became interested in the Nazarene Movement when he met one of the movements leading artists, Friedrich Overbeck.  The Nazarene Movement was a group of early 19th century German Romantic painters who aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art. The name Nazarene came from a term of derision used against them for their affectation of a biblical manner of clothing and hair style.

After his travels in Europe he returned home and was put in charge of the School of Design in Edinburgh.  At this time he was considered to be the city’s finest portraitist.  Later in 1838, he moved to London where he headed up the Government School of Design which in 1896 became known as the Royal College of Art.  Dyce left the school in 1843 to give himself time to concentrate on his own painting

The intricate painting today is a beautifully detailed seaside landscape of Pegwell Bay in Kent.  It resulted from a trip he and his family made in late 1858 to the well-liked holiday resort, which is close to the small Kent seaport of Ramsgate.  For a seaside painting it is interesting to note the lack of people on the beach but as this was in October, the cold weather probably kept people, other than these hardy folk, away from the shingle beach and cold sea breezes.  In the picture we see the artist himself in the extreme right middle-ground staring up at the cliffs.  Near to him we can just make out a man with his group of donkeys which were used to give children rides along the shore.  One of Dyce’s interests was geology and we presume he was taking great interest in the flint-encrusted strata and eroded faces of the chalk cliffs.  See how Dyce has meticulously recorded the detail of the rock formation of the cliffs.

Collecting fossils

Seemingly uninterested in geology, his wife, her two sisters and his son, wrapped up against the elements in the late autumn afternoon, amuse themselves searching for fossils in the foreground of the painting.  Pegwell Bay was famous for fossil hunting.  The sun was beginning to disappear and the temperature was dropping. 

Another of Dyce’s interest was astronomy and in this painting, albeit hard to detect in the late afternoon sky, there is the barely visible trail of Donati’s Comet streaking across the sky.  This comet was nearest the Earth around the time of this painting.

In some aspects this is not a seaside holiday painting of fun and happiness with people enjoying the sunshine and blue sea.  There is poignancy to this painting.  I need to know why everybody looks somewhat miserable as they hunt for their fossils.  Maybe it was the cold, as we can see them all well wrapped up in warm clothes.  It is as if they have been told “off you go, enjoy yourselves” and yet things were conspiring against them.  This is a somewhat downbeat painting.    The artist has used subdued colours in the depiction of the landscape which in a way makes the colour of the clothing worn by his family stand out more.