The refreshing turn of the century paintings of the Glasgow Boys and Girls get a welcome airing at The Granary Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed
Glasgow in the 1880s was an industrial and commercial powerhouse. It’s shipyards alone were believed to have built a quarter of the world’s ships, with its factories producing a similar number of steam locomotives.
Amidst this pre‐eminent industrial city of the British Empire grew a self-styled group of young, rebellious Scottish artists called the Glasgow Boys whose work eschewed the high Victorian taste for theatrical Highland landscapes, historical narratives and sentimental ‘story‐pictures’ but who were nevertheless interested in contemporary rural life.
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This boys’ club of artists flourished alongside three female painters, Flora MacDonald Reid, Bessie MacNicol and Katherine Cameron, who shared the same artistic values and moved in the same circles. All of them eschewed the historical, highly finished styles of their predecessors, preferring instead to depict an often pastoral world that reflected some of the realities of contemporary life.
The wealth of Glasgow’s industrialists and merchants and their desire to buy European art, notably French rural paintings by the likes of Millet and Corot, along with the Dutch Realist school, created an opportunity for the Boys and Girls.
Their fame grew not just nationally but across Europe and America so that by the 1890s they were hailed as some of the most innovative artists of their generation in the western world.
Inspired by the French Realist painters Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) and Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) the Glasgow Boys were most immediately influenced by Jules Bastien‐Lepage (1848‐1884).
Hailed as the inventor of Naturalist painting, Bastien-Lepage became an international superstar before dying in Paris, aged just 36. Having risen to prominence in the mid-1870s, he influenced the young Scots’ choice of rural subject matter by encouraging them to settle in the countryside, often in artists’ colonies, and also in their technique which focused on tonal painting and dispassionate observation.
Nearly 40 of their paintings return to the spotlight here, reminding us of their important position as the break-through modern artists in Scotland at the time.
Watercolours, including works from every significant member of the group, are featured in the exhibition which focuses on the period between 1880 and 1895, when the Glasgow Boys and Girls were at the height of their creativity.
Standout works include Sir John Lavery’s The Blue Hungarians at the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition; Joseph Crawhall‘s The Bull Ring, Algeciras/Bullfight (1891) and Girl Reading (1896) by George Henry (pictured below), on loan from the renowned Fleming Collection.
They are accompanied by a group of rarely seen works from private collections, including Edward Arthur Walton’s The Shepherd (c.1897), Bessie MacNicol’s portrait A fashionable Young Lady and John Lavery’s (undated) sketch for a portrait of the Scottish politician, writer, journalist and adventurer, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936).
Many of the rural subjects on display were painted at Cockburnspath, the Berwickshire village up the coast from the Granary Gallery. It became an artists’ colony frequented by all the main members of the Glasgow school, during the early 1880s.
Later the Group’s growing preoccupation was the depiction of city life, as well as portraiture and symbolism, and the exhibition features several fine examples of the shifting interests and subject matter of this dynamic and evolving group of painters.
“Art is a great consolation in difficult times – and never more so when it displays the energy, innovation, technical brilliance and beauty of the work of the young Glasgow painters of the 1880s,” says Curator of the exhibition James Knox, who is Director of the Fleming Collection of Scottish Art.
“This is their first museum show in the UK for almost ten years to which is now added the revelatory talent of the previously neglected women artists of the movement. It is a landmark exhibition, which will re-open people’s eyes to the cutting-edge creativity of the Scots which at the time wowed Europe and America.”
The Glasgow Boys & Girls is at The Granary Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed until November 15 2020.
Berwick Visual Arts
Berwick Visual Arts is an initiative managed by The Maltings (Berwick) Trust, which also manages The Maltings Theatre & Cinema. We are committed to developing a welcoming and engaging environment of exceptional, ambitious visual art to inspire, challenge and encourage learning and enjoyment for those who work, visit and live…