And All the Choral Waters Sang, by William McTaggart. Oil on canvas. 1902. 119.4 cm x 180.3 cm. The painting is in the collection of the McManus Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum, Scotland, Accession no. 272-1987-181. It was painted "entirely in the open at Machrihanish in June" (Caw 138). The title comes from Swinburne's poem, "At Month's End."

The painting without the frame.

In rather a purple passage, James Lewis Caw writes:

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. [182]

David Scruton also makes much of the various colours here, finding even more than those mentioned by Caw, in McTaggart's "touches of yellow, orange, red, green and violet, particularly in the foreground waves," as well as "a few slight touches of crimson edging the strokes of deep blue near the horizon," which, he suggests, "strengthen the blue without taking on character as strokes of colour in their own right" (229). However, at the time, art critics found the painting puzzling. As the gallery's own information label tells us, "Many critics were taken aback that his paint was so loosely applied that areas of primed canvas could be seen."

Photographs and text by Jacqueline Banerjee, by kind permission of the McManus: Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the McManus and the photographer, or source, and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.


Caw, James Lewis. William McTaggart, R.S.A., V.P.R.S.W.; a biography and an appreciation. Glasgow, J. Maclehose and Sons, 1917. Internet Archive. Contributed by Cornell University Library. Web. 1 November 2016.

Scruton, David. William McTaggart: Landscape, Meaning and Technique. Doctoral Thesis for the University of St. Andrews, Scotland 1991. Available via the University's Repository. Web. 1 November 2016.

Created 1 November 2016