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The Scottish School of Painting
Chapter XIX. Later Developments


As indicated in the preface, it is not intended here to enter, on a critical consideration of recent Scottish painting. Apart from other reasons for this, there is one quite sufficient—its impossibility in a limited volume, without reducing it to little more than a catalogue. Advantage has, therefore, been taken of the new departure, dating from about 1858-63, to bring such review to a close. But, as Lauder’s pupils, with whom the new era is associated, have been frequently mentioned, a few lines may be devoted to their place in the development of the school. A more impersonal glance at quite recent influences is also given.

In 1860 Robert Lauder had been for eight years master at the Trustees’ Academy, and the results of his teaching, and of other influences, were beginning to appear. One of these latter, the naturalistic movement, was, no doubt, strengthened by the exhibition in Edinburgh of certain Pre-Raphaelite pictures which had made a great stir in the south. No fewer than eleven of Millais’s works had appeared at the Scottish Academy since 1852, as had also Burd Helen, by Windus, and one or two other pictures of the same school. This cannot have been without effect on the band of eager lads—all inspired by their master’s love of colour—who were then making their debut. Pre-Raphaelitism had already affected Dyce and Paton in certain of its aspects; but the keener search after colour and natural effect such pictures as Ophelia and Autumn Leaves would naturally inspire, is first recognised in Lauder’s pupils. Their earliest work was akin to that of their immediate predecessors, but towards 1858-60 a change of technique is perceptible; the modelling is less direct, and a closer analysis of the true tones finds expression through broken colour, in the use of which they differ both from the Pre-Raphaelites and from each other. The pictures of the young Scotsmen have not the impassioned rendering of emotion and facial expression which distinguishes Tie Return of the Dove to the Ark, or Claudio and Isabella, nor all the strength and subtlety of the landscape setting of Autumn Leaves or Sir Jsumbras at the Ford; but there are the same elaborate detail and fresh outlook on nature without the eccentricities of the southern movement. As time goes on their handling broadens, and the works of historic or romantic interest by Pettie and Orchardson have an artistry, and the rustic idylls and domestic genre of McTaggart and Cameron a joyous note hardly to be found in the pictures of their English contemporaries save, in the latter respect, those of Hook.

Soon many of Lauder's ablest pupils are settled in London, forming, with others who had preceded or who accompanied them, the contingent which, under the name of “The Loudon Scottish,” made northern painting a power in the Royal Academy. At home, Paul Chalmers’s brilliant work in genre, portraiture, and landscape, influenced latterly by Israels, gave him a leading place. In the south, whilst Orchardson, Pettie, Tom Graham, and the Burrs at once took a high position in figure-painting, Scottish landscape was represented by Peter Graham, McWhirter, Hunter, and Macallum. In Edinburgh, Cameron continued his renderings of the joy and pathos of peasant life; McTaggart developed a broader style in his pictures of sea and shore; Macdonald and Lockhart illustrated history and romance ; whilst George Hay dealt mostly with the society of the eighteenth century, often illustrative of passages from Scott. In Glasgow, where the place of the earlier Western Academy was taken by the Glasgow Institute about 1863, the tradition of Milne Donald was carried on in the landscapes and marines of Docharty and Henderson. A west-country painter, Robert Carrick, is more than once very favourably mentioned by Ruskin in his Academy Notes. He seems to have been strongly influenced by Pre-Raphaelitism.

The later movement associated with the Grosvenor Gallery had little influence on Scottish artists, apart from calling attention to the decorative aspect of painting; but the contemporary art of Walker, Pinwell, and North had its analogue in the work of various Scottish painters whose student days fell in the later sixties, notably in the watercolours of George Manson.

A more potent influence made itself felt during the last quarter of the century. Jules Breton, in his autobiography, tells how in his Parisian student days—it was 1849—he made the acquaintance of a young painter, Eugene Gluck, who was “much preoccupied with certain grandes localith de ton, without shadow, which he had remarked in old tapestries, in the work of certain Primitives, and even in that of Paul Veronese. He had observed also that, in the street, the lighting of things was of the same sort, simple and high-toned; and further, how favourable such lighting was au jeu des valeurs, which no intrusive accident could destroy, and also what style and charm this unity gives to the character of heads: and he—Gluck—first called this plein air.'” “It is from this period,” he states in another paragraph, “that our pre-occupation with plein air applied to figures dates.” “Yes!” he proceeds, “it was in the cold, hard lighting of this sombre studio that we dreamed of the glory of diffused light.”

Gluck, the pioneer of the plein air movement, is unknown to fame, but, during the decade 1850-60, the manner of seeing he so named was adopted by men of greater ability. As we have seen, Velasquez, and one or two of the little master's of Holland, show a perception of the same simple lighting. The difference is, that now there was formulated that theory of values which made it common property. It is quite simple, but, like many such principles, it had evaded general recognition; even those who had had the prevision, knew it rather by keenness of vision than as a law. In the evolution of art, it was the complement of the recognition of perspective. Aerial perspective had been taken note of almost as early as linear, but was only now placed on the same scientific basis. And, just as in the fifteenth century artists took delight in showing their knowledge of linear perspective, so now they gloried in “the values.” But, as in themselves both belong to the sphere of science rather than of art, 110 great merit attaches to such knowledge. Nevertheless, both principles are invaluable to the art of painting; one has delivered it from a chaos which every one can now recognise, the other, besides freeing it from incoherences not yet so generally felt, opens up new spheres of activity. But no more than perspective could be a substitute for the naivete of earlier painting, can the most learned use of values dispense with any true advance previous centuries have developed.

In every widening of the field of Art there has been a disposition to overstate the new at the expense of the old. This farthest reaching of modern movements did not escape the general law, and many eccentricities have found expression through the revised formulas necessary for the inclusion of the new domain. Apart from these, its first effect was too often a rather mechanical technique, in which colour quality—meaning by that all those delightful artifices by which the painter strives to render the infinity of nature’s gradations—subtleties of drawing and modelling and finesse of hand, were little esteemed. It had another effect—the principle being easily acquired, painters multiplied exceedingly. All the world went to Paris to learn a method which assimilated all schools. Twenty years after Gluck stumbled, as one might say, on plein air, the technique of Continental painting was revolutionised. Paris was everywhere; the variety which had characterised the art of different peoples seemed doomed ; America was flooded with the new method; even outlying Scotland and conservative England were feeling its influence. But, in course of time, the earlier and cruder stages of the movement were left behind. Corot lifted the use of tonalites to a higher level, incorporating something of traditional, both in method and treatment, with his abstract and singularly personal art; whilst Israels in Holland, and Fortuny in Spain, showed that painting could not long be severed from national characteristics.

During the last two decades of the century, a band of students, mostly associated with Glasgow, brought the later phases of the new movement into Scottish art. At home, their style was regarded as foreign; for some years the division was marked, and there were the inevitable partisanships ; but, before long, Paris and other Continental art centres recognised in the work of many of these young men a distinct national strain. Latterly the old and new tend to approximate. History repeats itself, here as in other directions. The most ardent advocate of national art cannot deny that recuperation and expansion must come from the free intercourse of schools. In sixteenth-century Flanders, Mabuse, Van Orley, and others brought from across the Alps influences which seemed at first fated to stifle indigenous art, but which, so far from that, led on to the crowning glory of the following century, when all that was best in native Flemish and imported Italian painting was united on the glowing canvases of Rubens and Vandyck. Instances might be multiplied, but it is unnecessary. Here, as there, and now, as then, the result depends on the grit of the nation itself, and the temperament of its painters. Writing some twenty years ago, Sir Walter Armstrong said that Scotland, in spite of many disadvantages, had one of the few original schools. Surely it is not too much to hope that this position will be retained, and that out of the perplexities of new aims and methods, there will arise an art in which all the qualities which have distinguished the Scottish School of Painting in the past, shall be united with what of best the present or the future has to add. Thus only can the old be rightly conserved or the new attain its full fruition.


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