December 10, 2010 / 10:06 AM / 8 years ago

Scots who shook up Victorian art on show in London

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A group of talented and ambitious young artists join forces, determined to stir up the art establishment which they see as sentimental, stodgy and distant from reality.

A familiar story? Perhaps not.

The artists in question are not the French Impressionists, but an iconoclastic group that emerged in the Scottish city of Glasgow in the late 1870s to become the most daring and original painters in Britain at the time.

The Royal Academy of Arts is hosting the first major London exhibition for more than 40 years celebrating the achievements of the group, known as the Glasgow Boys.

More than 80 oils, watercolors and pastels by such artists as James Guthrie, George Henry, E.A. Hornel, John Lavery, Arthur Melville and James Paterson have been assembled from private and public collections.

When the group was formed, Glasgow was the second city of the British empire and known as the workshop of the world, its prosperity built on industry, commerce and finance.

Newly prosperous entrepreneurs and businessmen were attracted to new kinds of art and provided a financial springboard for the Glasgow Boys to plough their own furrow and shake up the visual arts in Britain and beyond.

They were a heterogeneous bunch, who at first sight seemed to have little in common. Despite the name they gave themselves, they did very little painting in the city itself, and some of them were not even Scottish.

Their naturalistic approach was inspired by French predecessors such as Jules Bastien-Lepage and Jean-Francois Millet.


Many of their works take as their subject matter the lives of ordinary folk — farm workers, herdsmen, fishermen — in rural settings, but they also recorded other aspects of urban life in the late Victorian era, such as railways and factories.

Among the celebrated works on show are Guthrie’s “A Hind’s Daughter”, a technically accomplished work showing a young girl cutting cabbages in a field, and Lavery’s “The Tennis Party” capturing with snapshot precision a moment during a game of lawn tennis — a fashionable new pastime in 1885 — in the garden of a Glasgow villa.

They are a visual documentation of a moment in history when British society was changing from rural to urban, from agricultural to industrial.

The exhibition broke attendance records in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery earlier this year and highlights from the show moved in October to London, where it will run until January 23.

The enthusiastic response in the capital has dispelled any doubts the Royal Academy may have had about the appeal of a group less well-known outside Scotland, despite its major contribution to British art.

“The response has been excellent, much better than we anticipated,” the exhibition’s co-curator MaryAnne Stevens told Reuters.

“We were slightly concerned that the name Glasgow Boys might not mean so much to the average exhibition-goer south of the border.

The group, always a loose association, began to disintegrate in the early 1890s as its members pursued individual interests with some, such as Guthrie, Henry and Lavery, turning to the more lucrative field of society portraiture.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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