In transcribing this survey of Scottish painting I have made use of the generally excellent Hathi Trust online version; its few errors take the form of spaces in the middle of words, missing question marks, and an occasional garbled letter. Click on images to enlarge them and to obtain additional information about the paintings. I have added subtitles. Click here if you wish to go directly to the discussion of nineteenth-century painting.— George P. Landow
N one of his latest public addresses, the late Prince Consort, speaking of the future of Scottish art, said that 'the history, traditions, and literature of Scotland, combined with its scenery and the characteristics of its people, were likely to lead to the evolving of a Scottish school of art distinct from those of England, France, and Germany.' Nearly a quarter of a century has elapsed since these words were uttered, and it will be the purpose of this paper to inquire into the bases upon which this prophecy was founded, to ascertain to what extent it has been fulfilled, to give some brief details concerning the works of the more eminent living Scottish painters, and to apprehend the significance and drift of individual characteristics and general tendencies.
Scotland’s First Artist, George Jamesone
In (or about) 1887* will be consummated a period of three hundred years since the birth of the famous portrait-painter, long ago styled by Horace Walpole the 'Scottish Vandyck.' If in this long period there are dreary gaps wherein shine no beacon-lights of art, it must be remembered that this is to be accounted for either by the irresistible influences of political and national events, or by the intensity of the religions bias of the people at large. George Jamesone was not born out of his due time, and it was on account of no inherent artistic incapacity that from his day onward for several generations there were few in Scotland who added honour to the early advances of Scottish art.
While full justice has on the whole been rendered to Jamesone as an artist, it is doubtful if sufficient stress has been laid on the immense value his work was to those artistic countrymen of his who followed in his footsteps. Many men are greater in the influence they exercise than in any direct accomplishment of their own: in our own day we have examples in the sphere of religion, in men like Maurice and Robertson of Brighton, in the sphere of letters, in a writer like Sainte-Beuve, in the sphere of art, in a teacher like Robert Scott Lauder, in a painter like Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A man of this order was George Jamesone of Aberdeen, the pupil of Rubens, the friend and fellow-student of Vandyck, despite, on the part of the latter, a juniority of ten years.
The Reasons Painting Languished in Scotland
n the latter part of the sixteenth century Scotland was experiencing troublous times. Art accordingly languished: or, to be more correct, art had not yet arisen as a national product, there existing no appreciation thereof save among a very few, and those representative of only a small section of the aristocratic class. It is a fallacy, a fallacy that has met with strange frequency of assertion, that art makes civilisation. In no country do we perceive any basis for this assumption; and certainly not in the Scotland of the days preceding the Reformation. Civilisation makes art: of civilisation the latter is the fruit, and by the quality of this fruit far more can be ascertained of the true spirit of the times that have seen its birth than would seem possible to many historians.
If the Reformation had not taken effect till fifty years later than was the case, there is no doubt that a school of Scottish art would have sprung into existence and would have been enabled to gain sufficient hold to withstand the long experimental test to which it would have been subjected. And this was not because the new wave of Protestantism at once overwhelmed the frail bark that had just started on its venturesome voyage: on the contrary, it was not till the dawn of the seventeenth century that any real change came over the habits and thought of the people. The majority of the nation was Catholic long after the thunders of Knox had died away, and a still larger majority preserved in their superstitious usages and common practices reminiscences of a prolonged period wherein were strangely commingled heathen beliefs and Romish priestcraft. In the far-off city of Aberdeen, then as remote from the busy world as now-a-days is Lerwick, there was born in 1587 a boy who was destined to gain much honour for himself and country; for George Jamesone, if not a great painter, was at any rate an artist of remarkable merit and really deserving in his own country of the applause and wealth which he gained. Scottish art, more especially that of portraiture, owes a debt of gratitude to the good Aberdonian burgess, Andrew Jamesone, and to his wife Dame Marjorie, inasmuch as at a time when art simply did not exist north of the Tweed they had the courage to devote their son to a calling which, to most of the good folk by Donside and Deeside, must have seemed as foolish a thing to do as to apprentice the lad to a maker of verses or to a strolling player. The pages of Vasari repeat over and over again the tale of parental opposition to the promptings of artistic creativeness in their offspring, and still more frequent and em phatic does this protest become in later and less simple times, and in the less aesthetically inclined and more practical lands of the north. Of course the good master-builder and his wife did not neglect apprenticing their son to some good trade, or risk the lad's life, reputation, and worldly prospects without having some good grounds to base their hopes upon: for, as Mr. John Forbes-Robertson has pointed out in a most interesting essay on the life and works of Jamesone, there had come even to far north Aberdeen rumours of the great fame and growing riches of a certain Peter Paul Rubens. To this art-grandee, then, the worthy master-builder determined that his young son should be sent, and the upshot of many considerations was that in due time the youthful Scottish artist reached the Antwerp studio of his famous contemporary and, later on, found himself painting by the side of an eager boy-student, years younger than himself, but whom in aftertime it was his glory to closely resemble at his best.
But it was as George Jamesone's art-career drew to an end that the fruits of the Reformation began to unfold themselves. The country was poor and the people impoverished, and the seed of an iron religious discipline took root everywhere, and began to sprout up with such vigour and in such a number of places that poor Art shrank back abashed, knowing that her time in this land was not yet come. Protestantism in all its early intensity may have strengthened the character of the people, and still further determined the part this small northern country was to play in the civilization of the world, but its hard un joyous creed, its in flexible opposition to anything that howsoever remotely savoured of Popery, and its tendency or rather its fixed principle to dis courage any devotion to the vanities of the world, the flesh, and the devil, acted upon native art with much the same effect as would have a soaked sponge lying upon a fluff of swansdown. Little chance for art to float either idly or persistently over this strugg ling land, when there was literally no joy in the visible heavens or upon the earth, when the glories of sea and land, the loveliness of flowers, the beauty of women, singing, dancing, merriment, were looked upon as things vain and illusory, if not actually accursed and veritable wiles of the author of all evil. There was time for Jamesone to flourish, but not for successors to take his place: out of a barren waste could come no fruit. But if the wave of the Reformation had reached Scotland half a century later than it did, there would have been time for the good seed to take root. It is certain that periods of great national emotion are not those in which art best flourishes. A Michael Angelo may continue his work while the enemy is without the city gates, but there are not many Michael Angelos. The people of Scotland slowly but surely embraced the new doctrines, gave themselves up to the emotion of fanaticism, became fervently ab sorbed in a Calvinistic mind, and inevitably grew narrower and more bigoted as the great wave began slowly to recede, leaving behind a genuine religion indeed, but fettered with useless res- trictions, and an appalling dearth of all that from a strictly worldly point of view makes life more full of grace and beauty. The home life of the Scottish middle classes in the seventeenth and early part of the eighteenth century must have been devoid of the aesthetic element to a degree unsurpassed by that of a similar section in any other nation of western Europe.
The union of the two kingdoms had also a paralysing effect on the smaller of the two. Scotchmen had long realised that wealth was to be acquired in other lands, and certainly no country has ever sent forth more soldiers of fortune, but now the conviction was also entertained that talent, whether of the pen or the brush, would have no chance unless exercised in that greedy southern metropolis that had begun to attract unto itself all that was best throughout the length and breadth of the land. Already that great evil of Centralisation had begun to fatally influence all the more ambitious spirits of the new United Kingdom, an evil that exists to this day.
Another reason for the slow uprising of Scottish art was the isolation of the country. Scotland has always dwelt apart from the nations of Europe: she has neither interfered with others nor been interfered with by them. As M. Waddington recently remarked in the course of an eloquent speech, France, which has at some time or other attacked every country in Europe, never was at war with Scotland; yet with the exception of Italy and the Rhine Provinces there were no countries which were in closer relation to that turbulent and restless land than the small northern country which had expended so much of the life-blood of her best and noblest under the banner of the Fleur-de-lys. With Holland and France Scotland transacted all her commercial affairs, but so great was her isolation from the chief European theatres of change and war and progress that nothing or next to nothing relating to art ever reached her from oversea. For centuries past she had been at war with or inimical to or jealous of England, and even for long after the Union the aesthetic influences from the south, not very potent at best, produced very little effect. But it is certainly strange that France, with whom the Scots were ever in sympathy, was able to do so little for her northern friend otherwise than giving her a number of useful words, and an incalculable amount of sound claret.
The independence of the people — always the most distinctive haracteristic of the national temperament — had doubtless also its effect in preventing any mere following of English customs and fashions: and it is to be remarked that when any eighteenth cen tury writers refer to Jamesone it is as to a genins as thoroughly Scottish in his art as in his life.
The Importance of Sir Walter Scott — and Edinburgh — in the Rise of Scottish Art
ater on there came the influence of literature, and by literature in this instance is practically meant Scott. Edinburgh had become a great centre; had won back those of her children who had wandered southward; had successfully established herself as a rival to London itself. Philosophers, historians, essayists, scientists, poets, novelists, gladly made their home in the northern metropolis, and among them were to be found painters and sculptors whose reputation was not bounded by the shallow waters of the historic Tweed, or even by the then (so to speak) far greater width of the Channel. Art had placed her foot firmly on the land, and henceforth there was no fear of her being driven out for want of sustenance and welcome. The first phase of Scottish art, Portraiture, had established itself, and the impulse it received from the new social conditions which came into existence with the re-birth of Edinburgh's greatness, was of such vital importance that it survived the inevitable period of re-action that succeeded, and to this day has not died out. In that 'Golden Age' there were so many worthies, whose life-likeness deserved perpetuation, that ample work was afforded to all the oil- painters, crayonists, and miniaturists who gloried in belonging to the profession upon which the genins of Sir Henry Raeburn cast so bright and permanent a lustre. But it was reserved for Scott — a man who knew little about painting and cared, perhaps, less — to do more for the Scottish art of the future than fifty academies would then have done, even as to his native country he induced a great flood of prosperity that even the great power of commerce would in itself have been unable to compass, and which a score of great martial victories would not have brought about. In his own sphere of literature he awoke into full music those chords of romance which had long lain waiting for the enfranchising hand of a master, but though the artistic bias of succeeding generations of painters was in some measure^ affected thereby, it was in another and more important direction that his influence had such markedly beneficial results. The love of nature had always been a Scottish characteristic, and there is in our poetic literature no truer and sweeter notes of natural minstrelsy than those that have been sung by Scottish poets, from Barbour, Douglas, and King James down to the not less fervid writers of the present day. But no one before Scott had in prose and on a great scale delineated those striking features of Scottish sceneiy which all the world has since declared to be so well worthy of seeing: and it was the speech of this man that was the key that opened the door of landscape to all who, brush and palette in hand, might care to enter. What numbers entered in at this open door, what great results ensued, has not subsequent Scottish art effectively demonstrated?
Since the days of Jamesone, who in his youth had himself practised painting studies from nature before he started on that eventful experimental trip to Antwerp, landscape-art had feebly struggled on as best it could, first under the political and religious influences already detailed, and, later, under the ban of the prevalent idea that only historic pictures had any claim to be considered productions of high art. But when Robert Gibb, who was among the first of Scottish landscape painters to approach nature as a conscientious student as well as a delineator of scenery, that is, who made studies on the spot before attempting the pictorial representation of a landscape, and preferred having the open sky and the free air as the boundaries of his studio instead of narrow walls and artificial light, when Robert Gibb and Alexander Nasmyth and Thomson of Duddingston and Andrew Wilson had accomplished their life-work, there was no fear that it was in portraiture only their artistic country men were to excel. Still, the scope of these true artists was limited, and in the case of the last-named was chiefly confined to an alien source of inspiration, for the soft and glowing colours of Italy more engaged Wilson's brush than the sterner if not less paintable aspects of nature in his own country. John Williams, Patrick Nasmyth, and John Ewebank are other early landscapists whose works are deserving of praise for their conscientiousness, and what is stranger, their delicacv and beauty. Considerably later (1819) was born another clever marine-painter (i.e., marine as distinct from a sea-painter pure and simple), James Cassie — one of the small band of distinguished artists, including John Phillip and William Dyce, who have returned honour to the city that nurtured them, the northern city from which came the fatherof Scottish art. Among other landscape painters born about the beginning of the nineteenth century were James Giles, David Roberts, David Octavins Hill, Charles Lees, and Horatio Macculloch. D. O. Hill and Macculloch were the two men whose works most strongly exemplified the influence of the new revival of interest in national landscape, and upon whom Scott's writings had the most direct effect. Hitherto the only landscape art that had been at all generally appreciated was that which either slavishly imitated or was unmistakably based upon the style of Claude and Poussin, — as favourably and characteristically exemplified in the works of Patrick Gibson, one of the early members of the Society of Artists and of the Royal Scottish Academy. With an extra vagance of praise, but with, at the same time, a certain basis, Horatio Macculloch has been called the Scottish Turner; but, while this artist, until quite lately the most popular northern landscapist, can in no way be compared with the greatest master in this branch of art the world has ever seen, it must be borne in mind that he was almost as instrumental in influencing ideal landscape-art in Scotland as Turner was in England. Even yet, though men superior to himself have come into the front rank, it is doubtful if Macculloch's popularity has sufficiently waned to enable it to be gainsaid that he is still in public estimation the greatest deceased Scottish landscape painter: for himself, the writer has no doubt that if a consensus of opinion were to be taken from the nation at large, it would be found that the two most popular painters were respectively Sir David Wilkie, and Horatio Macculloch.
By this time landscape, while it did not rival portraiture, had become so sufficiently germane to the artistic spirit of the people that we might well expect to find a constant advance, and, as a matter of fact, such an advance is distinctly and steadily traceable. It found its culminating period of refinement in the work of George Paul Chalmers, one of those few Scottish artists who, like John Phillip and the late George Manson, had a supreme and restlessly experimental delight in colour per se. Chalmers did not meet with his tragic death till 1878, but meanwhile had arisen a new school, meanwhile had descended upon the younger generation of artists a new spirit which was to effect the establishment of a distinctly national school of landscape-art, one that would be able to stand alongside of the national school of portraiture. But after Scottish portrait art had made for itself a name, after the works of Jamesone, and Aikman of Carney, Allan Ramsay — the son of the famous author of 'The Gentle Shepherd,' and the correspondent of Voltaire and Rousseau — Jacob More, and others, had met with due recognition, another branch of art, and one peculiarly suited to the genius of the people, had received its first real impetus in the works and in the enthusiastic influence of David Allan. This artist, born at Alloa in 1744, was the first who really devoted himself to a strictly national presentation of the customs of his countrymen, though unfortunately the stringent ideas prevailing in his time as to what was foolishly called 'high' and 'low' art prevented his really developing his natural bent until he was of an age when most men have made for themselves a groove out of which they are unwilling or find it difficult to pass. His appointment to the headmastership at the Trustees' Drawing Academy — that training-place of so many now celebrated contemporary painters — was productive of great good, for in due time its most important result was to be made manifest in the productions of the ' raw, tall, pale, queer Scotchman,' Sir David Wilkie. If it had not been for Allan's artistic influence and teaching it is quite possible that Wilkie would at any rate have frittered away much valuable time, for John Graham, Allan's successor in the mastership, though an artist of talent and good teaching faculty, was not the man to have dissuaded the young genius from the 'pareesh o' Culls' to discard the pompous mythological style, then so much favoured, for such a 'vulgar' misuse of talent as the painting of country fairs, blind fiddlers and penny weddings.
With the marked success of David Wilkie arose naturally a great number of imitators and followers. For a time the new school was popular, but now works of the kind are no longer so keenly appreciated: the picture-loving and picture-buying public coming to prefer subjects strictly domestic, or paintings of historical incident. Robert Scott Lauder — a man to whom some of the leading living Scottish artists owe a great deal, including Mr. Pettie and Mr. Orchardson, — may be taken as a representative painter of the most popular style of incident, his 'Trial of Effie Deans' being still one of the most familiar and most highly regarded works of this class. Of painters of the 'domestic,' perhaps the most characteristically Scotch is Mr. John Burr, the present President of the Society of British artists.
Two by John Burr: Left: The Peep Show. c. 1864. Right: Caught Napping. c. 1869.
Portraiture, landscape, history, incident, and the domestic, all in due time found more or less accomplished exponents, and it was no mean roll that within a comparatively short period could show such good names as (omitting Jamesone) William Aikman, Allan Ramsay, Sir Henry Raeburn, the two Nasmyths, the Rev. John Thomson, the Wilsons, Ewebank, Macculloch, Andrew Geddes, David Allan, Sir David Wilkie, Thomas Duncan, J. Adam Houston, and Robert Scott Lauder. No student of Scottish art need be told how many worthy names have been omitted, but those mentioned are at least fairly representative.
But as yet romance, notwithstanding the influenceof Sir Walter Scott, had produced slight results. A painting like 'Effie Deans' cannot be said to be romantic though its motive lay in a romance that had fascinated all who read it: the picture was admired either as a fine example of conscientious detail, or, and at the time more generally, as an illustration of a scene that almost every one had been thrilled by in the pages of the Fair Maid of Perth. The national character, much as it had lost in narrowness and gained in a wider sympathy, had little leaning towards pictorial romance. The national taste delighted most in portrait ure, an art which it recognised to be at once beautiful and valuable; then in homely subjects, painted as these were by Wilkie and the best artists of his school, everyday events just sufficiently permeated with something of imaginative glamour; and then in historical incident (because of the moral or useful information conveyed!); finally in landscape and seascape, though it was not till about the middle of the present century that the public appreciation gravitated more and more towards this branch of art, until (as is at present the case) it became far and away the most popular kind of painting. The time of M'Taggart, Vallance, Waller Paton, Docharty, J. Henderson, G. P. Chalmers; of Peter Graham, MacWhirter, Colin Hunter, George Reid, Hamilton Maccallum, David Law, R. W. Macbeth, David Murray, and others, was yet to come.
There was a mine of wealth waiting for those who cared to dig in the history of Scotland, in its legends, and ballads. Yet it must be borne in mind that these ballads, than which there are none finer, are not characterised by imagination or by the fine spirit of romance so much as by intense dramatic vigour, shrewd grasp of fact, strong faculty of vivid presentation. The most imaginative ballad founded on any event in the legendary or actual history of Scotland and the Border Land is a modern one written by an English poet of a highly imaginative and romantic genins — 'The King's Tragedy,' by the late Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It is not necessarily the most impressive, the most stirring of ballads: it is surpassed in action, dramatic force, in tensity, by several that will at once occur to memory, but it is distinctly the most rarely imaginative. But in 'Burd Helen,' the 'Dowie Dens o' Yarrow,' 'Sir Patrick Spens,' and a host of others: in the histories of Malcolm Canmore, Macbeth, Alexander, Wallace, Bruce, and so forth, lay endless themes for the national romancist to take up and illume with a new and delightful glamour. But for the most part subjects of this kind have not been frequently taken in hand satisfactorily, that is to say, they have not, or only infrequently, been painted from the standpoint of romance. A dozen artists might select such a subject as King James's fair Queen walking among her flowers in the morning sunshine, while, unknown to her, her royal lover looks amorously forth upon his 'sweete flowre,' but perhaps only one might permeate his work with the indefinable but unmistakable quality of Romance. It is in this quality that the Scottish artists are to this day deficient.
The other great quality which is markedly absent from the Scottish school of painting is imagination — or, to avoid misunderstanding, ideality, the higher kind of imagination. This is the more surprising when we remember how intensely imaginative is the Celtic genins and how strongly in some ways the Celtic influence has affected contemporary literature. There has, in fact, been only one really great imaginative Scottish painter, and he, with all his remarkable qualities of mind, was inferior to the much less accomplished but more spiritually imaginative southern mystic, William Blake. We speak, of course, of David Scott. Perhaps there has been no painter of eminence who, on the whole, has met with less recognition from his countrymen in general than the enthusiastic and bitterly-suffering designer of the 'Monograms of Man,' 'Man and his Conscience,' 'Death and Life-in-Death Gaming in the Phantom Ship.' Less powerfully imaginative than David Scott, but with a far more potent romantic bias, Sir Noel Paton has been and still is the chief devotee of romance in art. His 'Dowie Dens o' Yarrow,' for instance, are permeated by this quality in a remarkable degree.
Lastly, there never has been, and there is at present no sign of there being inaugurated any school of religious art. Probably religious faith, religious ardour, is as keen in Scotland as it ever was, but for some reason this undeniable intensity of conviction has never had such results as even to the present day are being continuously exemplified under the influence of Roman Catholicism. Why Protestantism should not foster a school of religious art as well as, if, indeed, not more than, Catholicism, may at present be left to readers to think out for themselves or for others to explain. For, sincere as is the writer's admiration of the true genius of Sir Noel Paton, he cannot recognise this artist's later religious pictures as either the outcome of the times or as the first-fruits of a new departure in national art. These later works of the painter of 'Oberon and Titania,' 'The Fairy Raid,' 'Nicker the Soulless,' may doubtless convey to many a plenitude of spiritual comfort, but the artist is not acting up to the bent of his genius when for them he deserts the realm of pure imagination, delicate fancy, and romance.
Vigorous expression, truthfulness even at the expense of crudity, poetic feeling of an easily appreciable description, subdued colouration, realistic more germane to the national taste, than hnrmonious intonation, rich colouring, grace, subtlety, breadth that is not afraid of appa rent incompleteness. While colour is the dominant quality of the Venetian masters, grace of the Italian, intellectual intensity of the German, chiaroscuro of the Dutch and Flemish, breadth of the French, sombre depth of tone of the Spanish, that of the Scotch is vigorous earnestness. Many of our contemporary artists have benefitted greatly by awakening to the value of and being able to convey in their work that which the national art so strongly lacked in landscape — breadth: and this owing to the influence of the modern French school, and to the training in Parisian studios which many of the younger Scottish artists wisely set themselves to undergo.** Colour has never been ardently pursued, probably in Scotland never will be, that is, colour that is splendid, magnificent, richly glowing: and this, notwithstand ing the brilliant exuberance in which John Phillip delighted, the dreamy experimentalism of Chalmers, the rich combinations of which poor Manson dreamt, the luscious glow so much affected by Mr. Herdman. But colour in a more modified sense is nobly exemplified by more than one living Scottish painter, notably Mr. Orchardson, who, despite the frequent exaggeration of his yellows, is a master in colouration. But of him and his contem poraries it is now time to say a few words before summarising the characteristics of Scottish art as it now is, and pointing out its tendencies.
To refer only to living artists it is necessary to pass over with little more than mere mention certain names more or less illustri ous in Scottish art, men who have passed away from our midst within a decade or two, and some of whom have died quite recently. In 1864 died the accomplished Aberdonian, William Dyce, R.A., the prominent characteristics of whose work are what may be somewhat paradoxically called tender severity and reserved grace, and some of whose religious paintings are worthy of great praise, though they are not in any sense such as could constitute the nucleus of a school of national religious art: Dyce had, in deed, greater similarity to the latest French classicists than to any of his countrymen.
Two by William Dyce: Left: Titian Preparing to Make His First Essay in Colouring. 1856-57. Right: Pegwell Bay. 1858-60.
Horatio Macculloch, a man far more widely known in Scotland, died three years later, after receiving great popular successes, and influencing, more than any of his contemporaries, the rising school of Scottish landscape; and of his work it may best be said that while in his own land, unlike the 'prophet' in general, he has met with too much honour, in England he has never been done full justice to. His work has suf fered much on account of certain technical fundamentals which need not here be specified, and artistically he too often succumbed to mere picturesqueness, a fault to which his later fellow landscapists are still peculiarly liable. In the same year passed away John Phillip, the most brilliant colourist that Scotland has produced: but fine as much of Phillip's work is, especially in such a picture as 'La Gloria,' there is often perceptible a certain coarseness, a want of insight into the innermost mysteries and delights of colour in relation. He too often is superficial. Yet at his best that he was an artist of remarkable power, with an exceptionally developed colour faculty is undeniable.
Three by John Phillip: Left: Prayer. 1859. Middle: Drawing for the Militia. 1849. Right: Albert, Prince Consort. 1859.
Two years subsequent to the death of Macculloch and Phillip there passed away from the artistic and social circles of Edinburgh a painter who has already been referred to as exercising while at the head of the Trustees' Academy, a markedly beneficial influence on some of the chief Scottish painters now living — Robert Scott Lauder, born in the third year of the century, and animated from his youth to his last days with an unselfish enthusiasm for his profession. Fifteen years ago, after a long and valuable life, died David Octavius Hill, a landscape painter, possessed of true poetic feeling, though perhaps more likely to be held in remembrance by posterity on account of his great picture in the hall of the Free Presbytery in Edinburgh, 'The Disruption of the Scottish Church,' containing the portraits of close upon five hundred clergymen. This artist has never received such full recognition of his great services to the cause of art in Scotland as these deserved. Six years later the Academy lost its President in the person of Sir George Harvey, a painter thoroughly typical of the school to which In' belonged, earnest, conscientiously realistic, but too 'finicky ' ; best known in Scotland by his admirably skilful 'Curlers,' of which a great number of engravings have been circulated. G. Paul Chalmers, best represented by his 'End of the Harvest,' has already been referred to, arid many will still call to remembrance his tragic death by violence in the streets of Edinburgh. In George Manson, who died in 1876, there passed away an artist who might have become the leading landscape painter of his country: full of promise, his delicate constitution and highly strung nature proved unable to bear the stress of life, and his work ended at the early age of twenty-six. In 1882 Sir Daniel Macnee, who had succeeded Sir George Harvey in the Presidentship, closed a long and prosperous career: a portrait-painter who from the first exhibited marked grip of character, but who had little refinement, and whose later work exhibits considerable deterioration. In 1883 died an artist not widely known, but J. Adam Houston by no means lacked material recognition of his work, characterised as it is by delicacy, gracious colouration, and reserve: indeed it was reserve that was too marked a char acteristic of Houston's talent.
There are two living painters whom it would be ungracious not to mention, though their life-work cannot now be materially added to. One of these is Mr. Gourlay Steell, R.S.A., an artist of deserved popularity. The other is Mr. William Bell Scott, the brother of Scotland's most imaginative painter, and one of the most diversely gifted men of his time.
Three works by William Bell Scott in several genres: Left: Iron and Coal. 1861. Middle: Algernon Swinburne. 1860. Right: The Eve of the Deluge. 1865.
Painter, etcher, poet, art-writer, art-critic, art-instructor, Mr. W. B. Scott occupies a unique position. All his work, in literature as in art, is charac terised by decision of expression, mental emotion. One of our oldest artists and writers, he is fortunate in possessing the esteem and personal regard of a host of his younger confreres in both professions.
Even in giving the briefest account of some of the more eminent Scottish artists who have been born within the last sixty-five years, and who are still as productive as ever, many names, otherwise calling for mention, must needs be omitted. The writer has before him a manuscript chronological list which he has compiled, containing particulars concerning about two hun dred Scottish artists, and, glancing down the columns, he realises how much available matter he must curtail even to give shortest record of a very few.
The twenties open with the birth of an artist who with his younger brother constitute two of the most thoroughly national painters which Scotland has produced since Wilkie. John Faed was born in Kirkcudbrightshire, and early began serious artistic work, at first finding employment in what was at that time the most easily obtained, and, in the case of young artists, the most remunerative kind of work, miniature painting. In 1841, he settled in Edinburgh, and within a short period had the good for tune to be elected an Associate of the R.S.A., an honour that was amplified a few years later, when in 1851 he was made full member. All Mr. John Faed's finest work has been based upon Scottish history or peasant life, and perhaps the best representa tive compositions to select are 'Catherine Seton.' 'The Morning before Flodden,' 'Old Mare Maggie,' and 'The Cottar's Saturday Night,' the last named the production which met with, and deservedly, the widest popularity. This artist is not so note worthy in composition as in a quality of manly refinement; a bet ter colourist than his brother, he is as an artist more unequal, but has the same sterling thoroughness in whatever he sets his hand to do, a typical Scotchman in this as in other things.
Thomas Faed, R.A., the junior of his brother by six years, may more fitly than any other Scottish painter be called the Burns of Art. Trained by his brother and Sir William Allan, he was well equipped for the artistic struggle when in 1852 he left Edinburgh, a strong feeling of independence urging him to make his own way without benefitting by the influence of his brother's growing reputation, John having just been elected an Associate. Three years later he made an unmistakable hit with his 'Mitherless Bairn,' the first of a long series of pictures for the most part dealing with homely rural life.
Left: From Dawn to Sunset. 1868. Right: A Wee Bit Fractious. 1860. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Among some of his best compositions may be mentioned 'Coming Events cast their Shadows Before' (1860), 'From Dawn to Sunset,' and 'Baith Faither and Mither' (1861), 'The Last of the Clan' (1865), and 'A Wee Bit Fractious' (1871). Mr. Thomas Faed's strong point is feeling: it is genuine feeling that animates his work throughout, but the pathos is of the very manifest kind. A wide distance intervenes between the pathetic vision of the Scottish artist and that of such men as Millet and Jules Breton: far less intense than that of the painter of 'The Angelus,' it is also less solemn and less reposeful than that of 'The Gleaner' or 'The Weed-Gatherers.' In a word, Mr. Faed has poetic, but not deeply poetic emotion, sentimentalism without reverie, homely truthfulness with only superficial insight. In no sense of the word is his work great; but it is pleasing, genuine, and calculated to quickly attract the interest of the general public. As a colourist he is not entitled to take any high rank, though by this is not meant to be conveyed that his painting does not attain to, perhaps even exceed, a fair average standard.
In 1821 was born at Dunfermline the artist who holds the highest place in contemporary public opinion in Scotland. Since 1he time when, only twenty-four years old, Sir Noel Paton gained from the Commissioners of Decoration of Westminster Hall the prize of £200 for his cartoon, 'The Spirit of Religion,' and two years later one of £300 for his now well-known 'Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania,' his career has been one long success. The Scottish Academy purchased his 'Quarrel of Oberon and Titania' (1849) at the price of £700, and placed it in the National Gallery in Edinburgh; in 1862 Her Majesty purchased his 'Home from the Crimea,' and five years later he was appointed Queen's Limner for Scotland, receiving at the same time the honour of knighthood.
Three by Sir Joseph Noel Paton: Left: Mors Janua Vitae (The Gateway of Life). 1866. Middle: Oberon and the Mermaid Right: The Valley of the Shadow of Death. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Poetic allegory is the vein of art that seems most natural to Sir Noel Paton. Imagination of a refined and ideal nature he has, and a marvellously rich and delicate fancy. His best period is undoubtedly comprised between 1845 and 1870. His 'Nicker the Soulless,' a small picture, seems to us the work that manifests the deepest poetic insight; and 'The Fairy Raid' no one but himself could have painted, full of charm, grace, poetry, elfish humour, exquisite manipulation of details, as it is. 'The Bluidy Tryste,' 'In Memoriam ' (perhaps the painter's chief work in point of technique), 'The Good Shepherd,' and others, deserve all the popularity they have gained. Among his allegorical works may be mentioned the familiar 'Pursuit of Pleasure,' 'Faith and Reason,' 'The Man with the Muck Rake.' Work such as 'Lux in Tenebris' appeals more by its sentiment than its art, and is not that by which he will be remembered, or by which a sympathetic writer would wish to have him represented. Sir Noel Paton is also a sculptor; indeed, it is not unlikely that nature had destined him for such pre-eminently: even in his pictures he is sculpturesque, in the decision of his lines and his faultless contours. An honour to the profession to which he has so faithfully devoted himself, the great number who admire his refined and poetic genins hope that he will yet achieve still further artistic as well as merely popular success, but this he can only do by discarding a vein of composition in which he has already quite sufficiently worked.
Only less widely known than Sir Noel are his brother and sister, Waller H. Paton and Mrs. D. O. Hill the sculptor. The latter, a woman of distinctive genius, has never had full scope for her abilities, and it is all the more surprising that she has been able to attain such great success as is symbolised by her statue of Dr. Livingstone in Prince's Gardens, and of Robert Burns at Dumfries. The former is said to be the first work of its kind executed by a woman which has been erected in any public place in Great Britain. Mr. Waller Paton ranks among the foremost landscape painters of the poetic school: no Scottish artist has ever interpreted nature with greater tenderness, delicacy, and sympathy. His Arran evening pieces are too widely known and too equable to call for any specification.
The Macbeths are such another family as the Patons. Mr. Norman Macbeth, R.S.A., a townsman of Jamesone, Dyce, and John Phillip, is one of the most thorough of contemporary portrait painters, two of his best pictures being portraits of Dr. Guthrie and Sir John Steell, R.S.A. R. W. Macbeth, his eldest son, was born in Glasgow in 1848, and is now one of the most popular of the influential band of Scottish painters who reside in London. Power, vigour, grasp, characterise Mr. Macbeth's work both in oil and water-colour, and though the subjects are English, the school of modern Scottish landscape is well exemplified by such pictures as 'Potato Harvest in the Fens' and 'Sedge Cutting.' Mr. James Macbeth is also a capable artist, his best work being that which deals with Highland landscape, e.g., 'Gareloch on the Clyde' and 'The Moor at Whistlefield.' Belonging to the same period are two well-known and highly accomplished painters, Mr. J. R. Reid (1821) and the late Sam. Bough (1822); Mr. Reid exhibiting very markedly the influence of the later French landscape and figure school, and showing a tendency to over accentuate the tone of sombreness which he has introduced again and again so effectually — and perhaps his own influence upon his younger confreres has in this direction only been salutary within certain limits. Breadth, dash, vigour, are the characteristics of Mr. Sam. Bough's work — landscape and seascape painting of the kind that has made this branch of Scottish art so influential and so widely popular. His 'St. Monans,' 'Ben Nevis,' 'Sunset on the Sea,' 'The Baggage Waggon,' 'Haymaking,' 'Crossing the Sands,' all painted impetuously but thoroughly, and with great breadth of handling, are fine representative works.
Two by Sam Bough: Left: Broomielaw Bridge, 185. Right: Stockwell Bridge, 1853 .
A year younger than Bough is Sir Wm. Fettes Douglas, the present President of the Royal Scottish Academy, an artist ani mated from the first by a poetic imagination, and whose composi tions are invariably painted sympathetically. Much more widely popular, indeed in England one of the most popular of artists, is Mr. Erskine Nicol (1825), who has devoted himself with rare success to the delineation of the home-life and character of the Irish peasantry. Humour, pathos, great insight into character, accompanied with a strong sense of harmonious colouration and thoroughly skilful draughtsmanship, render Mr. Erskine Nicol's work invariably deserving of high praise. ' A Deputation to the Member' and 'Paying the Rent' are compositions of quite exceptional merit.
At the end of the 'twenties' was born Mr. Robert Herdman, R.S.A., who has mainly devoted himself to the romance of national history or to somewhat sentimental studies of the 'Reverie' type. His colouration, frequently vigorous and harmonious, is often too softly glowing — too luscious. In the decade from 1830 to 1840 were born many eminent painters, notably, Mr. Orchardson and Mr. Pettie, and the landscapists Docharty, M'Taggart, David Law, G. P. Chalmers, Peter Graham, and J. MacWhirter. Both Docharty's (who died in 1878) and Mr. M'Taggart's works evince marked talent, but they have not the strength or breadth so characteristic of certain others of their confreres.
Two by William McTaggart: Left: Autumn Leaves. Right: The Emigrants. 1883-89.
Mr. Peter Graham and Mr. MacWhirter are generally admitted to stand in the front rank of living British landscape painters; both manifest insight, grasp of subject, breadth of treatment, powerful colouration, unconven tional realism, and there are certainly few living artists whose knowledge of nature can equal that of Mr. MacWhirter. At the same time, both are unequal, and both sometimes turn out works open to the charge of being 'pot-boilers.' A recent work by Mr. MacWhirter, 'St. Kilda,' is an example to the point.
Left: Huntsmen in a Clearing by John MacWhirter. 1899. Right: Self-Portrait by John MacWhirter.
It is noticeable that the chief Scottish landscape painters combine, to a far greater extent than the majority of English painters, a faculty for figure and portraiture with their own specialty. Mr. John Pettie, R.A., is an artist of very diverse gifts, and is certainly much more unequal than the two just named. Painter of portraits and figure-subjects (mostly selected from bvegone days), Mr. Pettie has also considerable faculty for landscape, but there is seldom to be found in his always interesting and often exceedingly fine productions, such imaginative insight as is manifested in a small oil-sketch in the late exhibition at the Institute of Painters in Oil-Colours in Piccadilly, entitled 'The Twa Corbies,' and illustrative of that weird old ballad.
Two by W. Q. Orchardson: Left: Her First Dance. 1884. Right: The First Cloud . 1887. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Mr. W. Q. Orchardson, R.A., is certainly one of the most dis tinguished of contemporary British artists. His most marked characteristic seems to be reserve, and this in a double sense; reserved strength of expression, and reserve in the sense that he will not be hurried into turning out inefficient work. He is the chief master of tone among living British artists; and his composition, against which so much has been urged — mainly on account of the wide unoccupied spaces we so frequently find in such pictures as 'The Social Eddy,' a 'fault' abhorred of the conventionalist — is harmoniously and carefully considered. His 'Bellerophon is a masterpiece, and it would be difficult to name any British artist who could surpass Mr. Orchardson in that walk he has pre-eminently made his own, and wherein he is best represented by the work named above, 'The Social Eddy,' 'The Duke's Ante-Chamber,' 'The Queen of the Swords,' 'Voltaire,' 'Un Mariage de Convenance,' and 'Her First Dance.' In a critical notice of the last-named — the latest picture that has left Mr. Orchardson's easel — an accomplished critic, Mr. Frederick Wedmore, has felicitously remarked of its painter, that 'that by which he will live is his slowly-acquired power of easy and familiar revelry with the charms of pure colour.'
Early in the 'forties' were born Mr. Colin Hunter, A.R.A, Mr. Hamilton MacCallum, and Mr. George Reid, R.S.A. Mr. Hunter is the leading exemplar of that true 'Impressionism' which has run to seed in so many quarters: breadth, subtlety in dash and vigour, brilliant truthfulness with great freedom of handling, characterise the work of this artist, one of the most eminent landscape painters living. Mr. MacCallum has lived among the scenes he paints so well, and his work has a charm, a lucidity, a brightness all its own. He is the most joyous of Scottish painters. Much more sombre in tone, but equally, if not even more powerful, is the work of George Reid, another Aberdonian. This eminent painter has raised himself to the front rank of contemporary portrait and landscape artists. Mr. David Murray, A.R.S.A., is worthy to be a member of this band, and has achieved commensurate success.
In conclusion, we may add that it seems to us the great bane of average contemporary Scottish Art is a false sentiment of picturesqueness. To be picturesque, to be merely picturesque, is the only ideal many seem to have, and it is hardly necessary to say that from such a basis no great national school of painting can arise. If our artists will not only faithfully represent what they see and wish to transcribe, but will do so without an unnecessary and inharmonious elaboration, a false striving after what is sui entirely artificial picturesqueness, so much the imagination, artistic apprehension for poetic insight. It is not the subject that is poetical, it is the vision by which it is perceived, the manner in which it is rendered. It is the difference between photography and art. 'What is truth' is a question not only most difficult to reply to satisfactorily, but which the writer has no idea of here propounding, Yet it would be well for a large number of contemporary artists if they would bear in mind the fact that a thing may be, so to speak, only sentimentally true and not really so, — for example, to take two well-known military pictures, Mrs. Butler's 'Roll Call' and R. C. Woodville's 'Retreat from Maiwand,' the first is only sentimentally true, the second is actual verity, while even more thoroughly artistic.
Two military painters: Left: God Bless You, Tommy Atkins. Richard Catton Woodville. 1889. Right: The Remnants of an Army . Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler). 1879.
Scottish painters are, speaking broadly, more efficient in chiaroscuro than English, but herein too they manifest a tendency either towards exaggeration or thinness. As yet there has arisen no idyllic school in Scotland, — though George Manson promised as much in this direction as the lnte Cecil Lawson did for English landscape- art, — no school or any individual artist who may be compared with George Mason or Frederick Walker. Mr. R. W. Macbeth is perhaps the most idyllic of living Scotch painters; but he will not found a school — he has been too strongly influenced by others to strongly irradiate influence again.
There is, indeed, sore lack even in Scotland, though not so noticeably as in England, of some common artistic credo. Aimlessness, indifference, perplexity, are not the best sentiments to animate the just rising generation. Is it a time of change — of advance? or are we entering on a period of disintegration and slow decay? It is for those young men who are now students or who have just left studenthood to decide, but no one can yet fuel assured as to what their decision will be. 'C'est à ce lendemain,' says Sainte-Beuve — 'Cent a ce lendemain sévère que tout artstei sérieux doit songer.'
* From researches lately made by Mr. J. Forbes-Robertson among the Sasines of the Aberdeen Record office it appears that George Jamesone was not his father's eldest son, and that the dale of his birth must therefore be set down as after 1587.
** There is, however, a danger of this Parisian training being indulged in to too great an extent. At some of the most recent exhibitions — at that, for instance, held during the first months of the present year in the Galleries of the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts — it is not encouraging to find so many of our younger artists deserting really gi>od centres of art instruction merely for the ateliers of inferior Parisian painters, copying the affectations, even the positive faults, of French artists of third rank, but seldom attaining the firm handling and brilliant finish, as a rule characteristic of the latter. But as a broad principle, it is indubitable that the influence of the really high class French painters is calculated to prove most beneficial, and that there is liner training in technique to be had in Paris than elsewhere. It depends for the most part on the student himself: there is a magnetism in art which draws the aspirant this way or that according to that which is in him.
“Scottish Art and Artists.” The Scottish Review 5 (1885): 205-20. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 1 December 2019.
Last modified 1 December 2019