York Macgregor was born at Finnart in Dunbartonshire on 14th October
1855. He was the third son of John Macgregor of Finnart, and by his
second wife Margaret York.
Macgregor was a shipbuilder and partner in the firm “Tod and Macgregor”,
but died on 23rd September 1858 when WY was less than three years old.
studied at Western Academy in Glasgow with James Paterson (1854–1932),
who knew him as “Puffy” or “Gigi”. These two young men then went on to
the Glasgow School of Art, studying under Robert Greenless RSW
(1829-1896). They painted together from 1877 at St. Andrews, Stonehaven
and Nairn, practising a form of plein-air painting. During this period
WY was a pupil of James Docharty (1829–78).
and no doubt as a deliberate rebuff, the Glasgow Art Club rejected
membership applications from WY and James Paterson. These applications
were serious ones from professionally trained artists. Also rejected
were the younger James Guthrie and E.A.Walton.
Paterson responded by leaving Glasgow. WY trained at the Slade School of
Fine Art in London under Alphonse Legros. Paterson Went to Paris and
studied under Jacquesson de la Chevreuse and later Jean-Paul Laurens.
also spent some time in Paris but with Walton and their friend Joseph
Crawhall, spent summers painting in various small towns, mostly on the
east coast of Scotland.
finishing his studies at the Slade, WY returned to Glasgow and lived at
134 Bath Street. Thus started the growth of what was to become an
influential group of painters in Scotland.
studio at 134 Bath Street, Glasgow, became a meeting place for Joseph
Crawhall, E. A. Walton, George Henry, John Lavery as well as his friend
James Paterson and others. These men, who became part of an informal
group of painters, eventually became known as “The Glasgow Boys”. (R.
Billcliffe: The Glasgow Boys: The Glasgow School of Painting, 1875–1895
(London, 1985) and recently republished, ISBN: 0719560330)
usually regarded as “The Father of the School”. His slight superiority
in age, combined with his training and financial independence made him a
natural leader for the younger painters in the group. They shared models
and materials and discussed the new ideas of the young French painter
Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose naturalist “plein-air” painting attracted
"Boys" came to WY’s studio not only for discussion but for instruction
as well. James Gutherie and Arthur Melville appear to be the only
Glasgow Boys not to have attended these classes, relying on the summer
painting excursions to continue their contacts with the other "Boys".
of WY’s advice is remembered as ‘hack the subject out as you would were
you using an axe, and try to realise it; get its bigness. Don’t follow
any school, there are no schools in Art’. In criticising work he was
‘damningly just’. Painting was always a serious task for WY.
1881 census he was found at 3 Park Street West, Glasgow, also living
there were his mother Margaret York Macgregor, his half-sister Janet and
his cousin William Yorke.
winter of 1882–3, however, he began work on a large painting directly
inspired by Bastien-Lepage, showing a girl selling vegetables from a
stall. The artist removed the life-size figure in 1884, probably after
seeing the figure paintings produced by Guthrie at Cockburnspath in
1883–4. This altered picture, the Vegetable Stall (Edinburgh, N.G.),
remains one of the most important realist paintings produced in Scotland
in the 1880s.
Macgregor’s other naturalist paintings reflect Guthrie’s use of direct
sunlight but demonstrate Macgregor’s weakness as a figure painter. This
is notable in the Cottage Garden, Crail (1883) and Crail (1883;
Stirling, Smith Art Gallery & Museum).
1885, WY began to withdraw from Glasgow as he suffered from severe
asthma and moved to Allen Bank, Bridge of Allan to convalesce. He spent
two winters in the south of England, probably with his brother Peter
Macgregor, who lived in Worthing. He also lived in South Africa from
1888 to 1890. During this time Guthrie gradually became adopted as
leader of the Glasgow Boys.
health improved in South Africa to be replaced by homesickness. He
returned to Bridge of Allan but remained on the fringes of the Glasgow
school during the 1890s. In 1898 he was elected to the Royal Scottish
Academy. His landscapes were never popular with collectors but remained
bold in colour and handling.
wrote that WY ‘relished a good sermon, loved savoury food, drank little
or nothing, smoked fine cigars, but never mastered a pipe. An omnivorous
reader, keenly interested in classical music, but never much of a
performer, he was always shy with women, while he had a cordial contempt
for people he called “Swells”.’
married Jessie Watson (born at Clonesbank, Buittle, Kirkcudbrightshire
on the 13th June 1879 to gamekeeper Robert and Sarah McBride) on the
30th April 1923 but died soon after at Oban on the 28th September.