Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Social and Industrial history of Scotland, from the Union to the present time
Nineteenth Century: 13. Art

Raeburn's formative influence, in the domain of portraiture, on the rising Scottish school, is apparent in the work of his contemporaries and successors—of George Watson, Watson Gordon, Graham Gilbert, and Daniel Macnee. George Watson became the first president of the Scottish Academy on its formation in 1826, and his portraiture has so much superficial resemblance to Raeburn's that in the judgment of Mr Caw, "the unscrupulous will some day pass off the best of his portraits (that of himself and of Benjamin West, the President of the Royal Academy, for instance) upon the unwary as examples of the greater painter." "Workmanlike and worthy of respect," is the estimate of the same critic. The finest of those of Watson Gordon, on the other hand, are said to approach Raeburn's in merit. He certainly fell heir to Raeburn's popularity and painted many of the notables of his time up to his death in 1864. He reached his highest level in his later period in his portraits of Lord Cockburn, Henry Houldsworth, the Provost of Peterhead, David Cox. He was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1851 and became President of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1850 in succession to Sir William Allan. Graham Gilbert, who, after his marriage to a Glasgow heiress, settled in the western city, came near in his "James Hamilton" and "John Gibson" to challenging Watson Gordon's supremacy, and, as his "Love Letter" shows, excelled him in the portrayal of feminine charm, in which the latter was distinctly weak. Daniel Macnee long shared with Graham Gilbert the patronage of the western city before becoming President of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1876, when he removed to Edinburgh. He has been described as "an understudy of Rafburn," and his best work, of which his portraits of Dr Ward-law, Charles Mackay as Bailie Nicol Jarvie, and "The Lady in Grey" are the finest examples, deserves the description: "None of them," says Dr McKay, in reference to the successors of Raeburn, "take equal rank with the founder of the school, but three of the group may be said, by the addition of individual qualities, to have widened the scope of native portraiture. If a selection of the more notable works of Watson Gordon, Graham Gilbert, and Macnee were aligned with an equal number of representative Raeburns, though the former would suffer by contact with Sir Henry's masterly technique—the brilliant ensemble that takes one by storm—there would nevertheless be found an advance in that intimacy of observation and characterisation which is a dominant note in the best production of recent times."

Like Raeburn in portraiture, David Wilkie (1785-1841) exercised a formative influence on Scottish painting in the department of genre, i.e., in the depicting of scenes or subjects from life. Born in 1785 in the "manse of Cults in Fifeshire", he became a pupil of John Graham in 1799, when Raeburn was already famous. At the age of 19, after he had finished his training under Graham, he gave in "Pitlessie Fair " a foretaste of his genius as a genre painter. In 1805 he went to London to study in the schools of the Royal Acadcmy, and in the following year sprang into fame with his "Village Politicians," which he sent to the Academy's Exhibition. Three years later he was elected an associate, and in 1812 a member of the Royal Academy. These distinctions, to be followed later by the appointment of Painter in Ordinary to George IV., and a Knighthood from William IV., were richly merited by the developing mastery revealed by "The Blind Fiddler," "The Rent Day," "The Village Festival," which belong to the years between 1800 and 1812, and show the influence of Toniers and Ostade on his work. In the following year the Exhibition contained what is perhaps the most popular of all his creations—"Blind Man's Buff." In the next ten years he produced most of his characteristic work, including "The Penny Wedding," in 1819; "The Reading of the Will" in 1820, and "The Chelsea Pensioners" reading the news of Waterloo in 1822, for the Duke of Wellington. A sojourn on the Continent for reasons of health, which lasted several years, led him to essay the grander style of the Spanish masters and to devote himself to portraiture and pictorial subjects. The change of style is pronounced by the critics to be a lapse into an atmosphere in which the real Wilkie is not in his true element. "In those life-size portraits and illustrations of long past or recent history," says Dr McKay, "one recognises many admirable artistic qualities, but no longer the unique Wilkie." Even in his true sphere—that of reflecting the homely incidents of real life—he has his limitations. "Although," says Mr Caw, "he drew his subjects from the life of the Scots peasantry, he only touched it at certain points." It may be said, nevertheless, that he did for old Scottish life in the realm of art what Scott did for it on a grander scale in that of fiction, and Burns in a more restricted degree in that of poetry. He depicted its characteristic features at a time when character and custom were undergoing a transition in keeping with change in the social and industrial life of the country. True, his settlement in London enlarged the scope of the subjects treated, which include characteristic scenes of English life. "The Village Festival," for instance, is characteristically English, and the setting of "Blind Man's Buff" is also English. But there is no mistaking the Scottish flavour of such productions as "The Blind Fiddler," "The Penny Wedding," "The Rent Day." They were and have continued to be extremely popular in Scotland, and exercised a marked influence on the work of Scottish genre painters of his own and the immediately succeeding generations, such as Alexander Fraser, John Burnet, and William Kidd. Later in the century this influence was perpetuated in the humorous scenes of Erskine Nicol (1825-1904), and the pathetic presentations of Thomas Faed (1820-1900).

William Allan (1792-1850), the second President of the Scottish Acadamy, may be described as the pioneer of the historical genre in Scotland. In early life he spent some years in Russia, and later, besides revisiting Russia, travelled in Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, and Spain. He portrayed scenes of oriental life suggested in the course of his travels. His intimacy with Scott quickened his interest in the history and romance of his own land, which found pictorial expression in a series of scenes from the lives of Bruce, Knox, the Regent Murray, etc. " They are not distinguished by any great artistic merit, and his work is more interesting as inaugurating a new development in Scottish painting than on its own account." As the master of Harvey, Duncan, and Scott Lauder, who studied under him in the Trustees Academy, his influence in this respect was considerable. All three drew largely on the Waverley Novels for their historic material. Duncan, who died in 1845 at the age of 38, excelled as a colourist in his dramatic representations of episodes in the life of Prince Charles, which gained him the associateship of the Royal Academy, and his "Martyrdom of John Brown of Priest-hill." Sir George Harvey (1806-76), who succeeded Watson Gordon as fourth President of the Royal Scottish Academy, also reached a high level in his most telling historic pictures ("Drum-clog," "Quitting the Manse," "The Sabbath in the Glen"), and, besides, treated genre subjects with remarkable spirit in "The Schule Scailin'," "Sheep Shearing," etc. Lauder was more distinguished as master of the Trustees Academy than as a painter, but he scored one striking success in "The Trial of Effie Deans."

As in the case of Thomas Duncan, David Scott's career (1800-49) was cut short by a comparatively early death, and was, besides, clouded by melancholy begotten of ill-health and ill-deserved lack of recognition. A brilliant colourist with a powerful imagination, but defective draughtsmanship, he also may be classed among the historical painters of the earlier nineteenth century, though his predilection was for the abstract rather than the concrete side of his historical material. Pictures like " The Traitor's Gate " and " The Spirit of the Storm," of which the Duke of Gloucester and Vasco da Gama are respectively the subjects, are instinct with the meaning which it was his main purpose to convey. It was the significance of action, rather than the action itself that interested him, and in these pictures he succeeded in giving expression to the thought and emotion underlying the scene with powerful effect. Later in the century the historical or semi-historical subject found capable exponents in Sir Noel Paton (1821-1901), Robert Herdman (1829-88), and Sir W. Fettes Douglas (1822-91). "Luther at Erfurt" is one of Paton's finest creations. But his main interest was in religious allegory and in the realm of fancy, and the pictures in which he gave expression to religious and moral verities, such as "The Pursuit of Pleasure," or sought to visualise the fairy world ("Oberon and Titania ), display an exuberant imagination and a richly inventive faculty, and won an enormous popularity. Herdman also successfully used history with a moral purpose in such pieces as "A Conventicle Preacher before the Justices," "After the Battle," and "St Columba Rescuing a Captive." Fettes Douglas, who became President of the Academy in 1882, had a predilection for the recondite realm of alchemy and astrology, and his antiquarian interest appears most characteristically in "The Alchemist," "The Visit to the False Astrologer," "The Rosicrucian."

Scottish landscape painting takes its rise with Alexander Naysmyth and his pupil John Thomson (1778-1840), minister of Duddingston, and the friend of Walter Scott. In spite of the varied grandeur and beauty of Scottish scenery, the feeling for nature was long dormant. English travellers in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were repelled by the wild vistas of mountain and moor, and among the strange criticisms of things Scottish in which they indulge none astonishes the modern reader more than their obtuse judgments of the landscape north of the Tweed. The treeless Lowlands in those days might ill compare with the sylvan beauties of England. But even the magnificent panoramas of the Highlands fail to impress the eye of Captain Burt, for instance, who pronounces the mountains "disagreeable"—the more so when the heather is in bloom and the day is clear! Scotsmen themselves for the most part had lost the sense of nature, to which the Scottish poets of the Renaissance period had given expression. In the later eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries there came a marked awakening of the aesthetic sense, and the new feeling for nature found appreciative expression in The Seasons of James Thomson, in Ossian, Allan Ramsay, Burns, Scott, Hogg, and Byron. From literature this appreciation passed into art in the landscapes of A. Naysmyth, John Watson, and especially of the Duddingston minister. The Rev. John Thomson, whilst failing to shake himself free from the conventional manner, was "the first to seize and express fitly the true character of Scottish landscape." Horatio M'Culloch (1805-67), who shows his influence, put on the canvas many striking studies of Highland landscape, though his art is still, like that of Thomson, hampered by the conventional. The same may be said of his less popular, but eminently deserving contemporary Milne Donald. With Sir George Harvey, who in his later years devoted himself to landscape, and J. C. Wintour, it became more realistic, truer to nature, more intimate and personal. This feature is increasingly apparent in the works of Sam Bough— the most vivacious of men and artists—and his intimate associate Alexander Fraser, who, "in determination to paint everything from the thing itself," rivalled the most fervent of the Pre-Raphaelites, and whose art is the outcome of how he saw nature, and a record of what he most admired.

Compared generally with the painting of the first half of the nineteenth century, that of the succeeding period becomes less conventional, and more naturalistic and individualist. This feature is already apparent to some extent in the work of some of the painters already mentioned. It becomes more marked in that of the pupils of Scott Lauder in the sixth decade of the century, to whose teaching it owed much. This period saw, too, the rise of the Glasgow School, which developed independently on impressionist lines, and attained a European reputation and influence. Lauder's pupils are distinguished by the feeling for colour with which their master inspired them from the great Venetian colourists. Brilliancy of colour and the pictorial sense are distinctive features of the works of Crehardson, Pettie, Chalmers, M'Taggart, Cameron, M'Whirter, Peter Graham, and others, in the various branches in which they practised. Other notable painters, though not belonging to this brilliant group, such as Sir George Reid, Robert Gibb, William Hole, Martin Hardie, Ogilvy Reid, J. R. Reid, J. E. Christie, Robert M'Gregor, Robert Alexander, Denovan Adam, have lent distinction to Seottish art in recent times in the departments of historic-domestic genre, landscape, portraiture, animal painting. The Glasgow School was the result of a strongly realistic revolt from artistic tradition, and was influenced by French realism. It took definite shape in Scotland in the eighties, and among its pioneers were .Tames Guthrie, James Paterson, George Henry, W. Y. M'Gregor, E. A. Walton. John Lavery, Alexander Roche.

It fought its way to recognition with all the verve of ardent conviction against the prejudice of the Academy, and succeeded by force of merit in winning a leading place in art exhibitions at home and abroad.

Scotland has thus within 100 years steadily developed an art which is strong in the delineation of Scottish character, domestic life, history, and landscape. It reflects the national temperament, and though foreign influences—Italian, Dutch, Spanish, or French—are traceable throughout, the national element is un-mistakeable. "No one familiar with the history of painting in Scotland," says Mr Caw in the luminous resume which concludes his highly competent and suggestive review of Scottish Painting Past and Present, " since it became a living art in the pictures of Raeburn, Wilkie, and Thomson, will find it difficult to trace a more or less connected development, and to find in its successive phases qualities, subjective, emotional, and technical, eminently characteristic of the Scottish people." For a small country to have produced so much in this domain of culture within little more than a century is a remarkable achievement. Still more remarkable that so much of it has attained a very high level of excellence, and that in more recent times it has commanded the homage of Europe as "one of the few and original manifestations in modern painting."

To the work of Raeburn and Wilkie is mainly due the early development of art in Scotland as a distinctive feature of Scottish culture and an influence in the national life. Some share of the merit belongs, however, to the Trustees Academy, and especially to the teaching of John Graham, who became master in 1798, and among whose pupils were David Wilkie, William Allan, and John Watson Gordon. Originally a school of applied art, it become under Graham also a school for the training of artists, and under his successors Andrew Wilson and Sir W. Allan, who was appointed master in 1826, when accommodation was assigned to it in the Royal Institution, this feature of the instruction was continued and developed. The appointment of Scott Lauder in 1852 greatly increased its formative influence. In 1808 a beginning was made in the direction of professional organisation by the formation at Edinburgh of the Society of Incorporated Artists. The Society held annual exhibitions for several years, and these exhibitions tended to arouse a wider interest in painting. Hitherto, according to Lord Cockburn, there had been no public taste for art, and, except for Raeburn's works, no market for the productions of Scottish artists. A marked change for the better now set in, and these exhibitions were a distinct success. In five years' time a sum of 1800 had been accumulated. Unfortunately, the majority of the members resolved in 1813 to distribute this sum among themselves instead of devoting it, as Raeburn and others advised, for the purpose of establishing a permanent body. The enterprise accordingly lapsed, though the annual exhibition was continued till 1810. Three years later another organisation took shape in the "Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland," which proposed to attain this end by holding annual exhibitions of ancient masters, and devoting the proceeds to the relief of deserving, but impecunious artists. The ancient masters in Scotland were, however, too few to furnish an attractive exhibition, and ere long it was found necessary to include the works of living artists. In 1820 it found a location in the Royal Institution which the Roard of Manufactures had built on the Mound. Unfortunately, friction arose between the management and the resident artists, who were allowed no voice m the administration, and in this year the latter determined to establish a separate professional organisation or academy, and to apply for a royal charter. The request was refused, and the boon accorded instead to the Institution. The artists, nevertheless, persevered in their undertaking, and for a couple of years rival exhibitions were held by the two bodies. In this struggle the artists, backed by the public support, emerged victorious. The Royal Institution agreed to confine its attention to the acquisition of "ancient pictures as a nucleus of a national collection," and left to their rivals the exhibition of contemporary works. It was from this clash of rival organisations that the Royal Scottish Academy, which received its charter in 1837, was evolved. The Academy held its exhibitions in the Royal Institution, and there was further friction with the Board of Manufactures until in 1855 it at last obtained, through Government intervention, the benefit of a separate establishment in the National Gallery on the Mound, which was erected from funds furnished by Parliament and the Board respectively.

Like Edinburgh, Glasgow also had its difficulties in promoting the interests of art. The Diletante Society commenced a series of exhibitions in 1838 which continued annually for about a decade. An Art Union was started in 1841, and later the West of Scotland Academy came into a struggling existence. These attempts proved, however, ultimate failures, and "it was not till the Institute of the Fine Arts was founded in 1861 that the advantages of well organised and representative annual exhibitions were secured for 'the second city.'" Six years later the Glasgow Art Club was started, and ultimately became the centre of art life in Glasgow with its own annual exhibition. The Royal Scottish Water Colour Society, founded in 1878, has also its headquarters in Glasgow. Other artist societies have come into existence in both Edinburgh and Glasgow—the Society of Scottish Artists, the Glasgow Society of Artists, the Society of Lady Artists—and also at Aberdeen, Dundee, and other provincial towns.

Art collections, so necessary for the cultivation of the public taste as well as for the education of artists, are available for both purposes in the National Gallery on the Mound, the National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street, due to the enlightened generosity of Mr Findlay of Aberlour; in the Corporation Museum of Art at Kelvingrove, Glasgow; and in the Art Galleries of Dundee, Aberdeen, Stirling, and other towns. Art education has also undergone a marked development. In 1858 the Trustees Academy was affiliated to the Science and Art Department in London, the life class being transferred to the Royal Scottish Academy. In 1899 the function of the Science and Art Department iu Scotland passed to the Scottish Education Department, and with its co-operation the Edinburgh Town Council took the lead in establishing a new and thoroughly equipped College of Art by providing the site on which the new building was erected from a fund derived from a large Government grant, supplemented by public subscriptions. Glasgow has not been behind Edinburgh in the provision of a first-class art school, which since 1890 has provided a comprehensive art training, and, like the Edinburgh School, it is recognised by the Scottish Education Department as a central institution for Glasgow and the West. The well equipped Aberdeen School possesses the same status, and performs the same function for the northern district. Edinburgh is the only University which possesses a chair of the Fine Arts, but art teaching is included in the curriculum of a considerable number of secondary schools.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus