Glasgow Boys: Scottish Art
Glasgow Boys was a group of artists working in Glasgow, Scotland. These Scottish artists came together in the 1870s and were active during the late 1890s and early 1900s.
Their work continued into the early 1910s, only disrupted by the outbreak of World War One in 1914. These artists embraced change, created stunning masterpieces, and became icons of Scottish art in the process.
But who were the Glasgow Boys? This brief introduction explores the movement’s most significant artists and their celebrated Scottish art.
What was the Glasgow Boys’ painting style?
The international Art Nouveau movement deeply inspired the Glasgow Boys. Popular between 1890 and 1910, these artists rejected formal academic art. Instead, they focused on the natural world and gave their oil paintings a sense of dynamism and movement.
There were several sub-groups linked with the Glasgow Boys. Some artists in the movement were known simply as “The Four”. Other groups included the broader “Glasgow School” and the “Glasgow Girls”. As the name suggests, this latter group consisted of Scottish female artists.
The Glasgow Boys’ painting style was incredibly close to continental developments in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Similarly to avant-garde French artists at the time, the Glasgow Boys focused on rural scenes and everyday life in Scotland. Their richly colored creations portrayed the many sides of countryside life around Glasgow and the surrounding areas.
Contemporary trends towards Realism and Naturalism also played a part in their painting.
How did the Glasgow Boys form?
Glasgow experienced a massive economic boom during the late nineteenth century. The city’s merchants drove this wealth and often invested in Neoclassical art and architecture.
While the Glasgow School eschewed Neoclassical styles, the city’s pre-existing focus on the arts helped the Glasgow Boys come together. They met while studying at the Glasgow School of Art.
As a loose grouping of artists, the “boys” came together in the 1880s. They formed due to their dislike of traditional academic painting in the city. These Neoclassical styles often focused on mythological and historical topics. Highly detailed painterly finishes were also standard.
In contrast, the Glasgow Boys employed a looser style of brushwork, fusing multiple influences.
These influences included the Arts and Crafts Movement (a British movement influenced by romantic, medieval, and folk art) and “Japonisme”. This style was intensely popular in France (gradually spreading to the rest of Europe), demonstrating the massive influence of Japanese art and culture. The “Celtic Revival” and Impressionist art also inspired the Glasgow artists.
Who were the Glasgow Boys?
The most renowned members of the Glasgow Boys (and the Glasgow School) were “The Four”.
These four artists included Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh (a painter and glass artist) and her sister Frances MacDonald Mackintosh. Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Margaret’s husband) and Herbert MacNair completed the group.
As well as the “Four”, there were three distinct waves of Glasgow Boys:
● The first wave included artists such as William York Macgregor and James Paterson. They often met at Macgregor’s studio in the city. Paterson’s Moniaive (currently held by the Hunterian Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow) shows strong influences from the Realism of Dutch landscape painting.
● The second wave of Glasgow Boys consisted of George Henry, James Guthrie, Thomas Millie Dow, and Joseph Crawhall. James Whitelaw Hamilton, E. A. Hornel, and E. A. Walton were also involved. To Pastures New and A Hind’s Daughter by James Guthrie exemplifies this second wave’s calm, rural focus.
● Reflecting the increasing renown of the Glasgow School of Art, the third wave of artists was the largest. This third wave included David Gauld, William Kennedy, John Lavery, Arthur Melville, and James Nairn (to name just a few). Paintings such as Gold Links at North Berwick and The Croquet Party by John Lavery demonstrate Glasgow artists moving away from strictly rural subjects.
Why was the Glasgow School called the Spook School?
The “Spook School”, “Spooky School,” and “Ghoul School” were all alternative names for the Glasgow School of Art. These labels mocked Glasgow artists (for instance, Charles Rennie Mackintosh) for their distorted and elongated human forms.
While this started as a derisive epithet, Glasgow artists quickly adopted the term.
As well as trends in French and Japanese art, the Glasgow Boys particularly respected James Abbott McNeill Whistler and his Tonalist artworks. Linking all these artists was a passion for depicting things as they “really are”.
Consequently, artists in the movement often painted “en plein air”. A French term, this phrase translates as “outside”. This approach allowed the Glasgow Artists to get as close to nature as possible, painting real places and people.
This quick and spontaneous painting style was novel for the period, leading to the Glasgow artists’ reputation for innovation. These Impressionist techniques, often dealing with the fleeting effects of weather and light, also created an intense sense of movement. Combined with a richly textural approach, these methods made the Glasgow Boys’ art stand out.
Who were the Glasgow Girls?
In addition to the Glasgow Boys, many female artists and designers worked in the city during this period. Indeed, women artists flourished during this Scottish Enlightenment” age, which took place between the mid-1880s and the early 1900s.
Art Historians often credit these developments to Fra Newbery, the influential head of the Glasgow Art School. He created an accepting and open environment allowing women to succeed as artists and teachers.
The Glasgow Society of Lady Artists (founded in 1882) also supplied a space for female painters to meet and exhibit their work. Early in this period, the women’s suffrage cause similarly brought female artists together.
Just some of the “Glasgow Girls” included Frances and Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh (also members of “The Four”, Annie French, and Helen Paxton Brown. Norah Neilsen Gray, Ann Macbeth, and Jessie M. King also played a part.
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