The Glasgow School and Kelvingrove Art Gallery

The natural surroundings of Scotland, its seascapes, highlands and lowlands make the country a tremendous wonder for art and naturalistic inspiration. No surprises then that Scotland has a proud history of art.

Not a few cities in Western Europe can claim a period of artistic brilliance, when their city was home to some of the most fantastic and creative artists in their region, think Paris, Amsterdam and Gothenburg. Add Glasgow to that list.

The artists formed the Glasgow School and they began to build up in Glasgow in 1870, reaching their peak of artistic influence in the 1920s. While the term School is used, these weren’t all in constant communication, in fact the better term might be the Glasgow schools since there were many different loose group within this school of art – The Four, Glasgow Girls, Glasgow Boys.

Artists arrived in Glasgow because the city was going through its economic boom in the late 19th century, early 20th century thanks to the colonial trade. The egos of the of the merchants in the city expanded with the ever-enlarging riches in their pockets. There was money to go around to commission art pieces, architecture and interior designs.

The most influential were The Four (Margaret and Frances MacDonald, Charles Mackintosh and Herbert MacNair). Their work was inspired by the historical traditions namely the Celtic tradition, Japanese art form, and Arts and Craft styles. A style that took ethereal forms

Then there were the Glasgow Girls. According to Wikipedia, “The Glasgow Girls is the name now used for a group of female designers and artists including Margaret and Frances MacDonald, both of whom were members of The Four, Jessie M. King, Annie French, Helen Paxton Brown, Jessie Wylie Newbery, Ann Macbeth, Bessie MacNicol, Norah Neilson Gray, Stansmore Dean, Eleanor Allen Moore, De Courcy Lewthwaite Dewar, the silversmith Agnes Banks Harvey and Christian Jane Fergusson. May Wilson and Eliza Bell, among others, continued the tradition of ceramic artistry into the 1940s and 1950s by hand painting various items with floral patterns.

In a time when women’s place was still limited to the domestic sphere Glasgow was a renaissance city, many women were admitted into the Glasgow School of Arts, and flourished.

Finally there were the Glasgow Boys. While The Four and the Glasgow Girls were active for decades, the Glasgow Boys were only active as a community for slightly over a decade. These men were all either trained in Glasgow or had ties to the city. Like the artists in Gothenburg, they were rebels who had a problem with the established and snotty artistic society in Edinburgh. Their subjects was therefore focused on realism and naturalism; their style took on a more globalised informed by Japanese, French, Spanish and North African art forms.

According to Wikipedia, among the painters associated with the group were Joseph Crawhall (1861–1913), Thomas Millie Dow (1848-1919), James Guthrie (1859–1930), George Henry (1858–1943), E. A. Hornel (1864–1933), James Whitelaw Hamilton (1860-1932) and E. A. Walton (1860–1922). David Gauld (1865–1936), William Kennedy (1859–1918), John Lavery (1856–1941), Harrington Mann (1864-1937), Stuart Park (1862–1933), William Wells (1872–1923), David Young Cameron (1865–1945), Alexander Ignatius Roche (1861–1923), Arthur Melville (1855–1904), Thomas Corsan Morton (1859-1928), James Nairn (1859–1904), George Pirie (1863-1946) and John Quinton Pringle (1864–1925). James Paterson (1854–1932) and William York Macgregor (1855-1923) were leading figures in the group, which used to meet at Macgregor’s studio.

All these art pieces had to be displayed somewhere, so in 1888 high from the success of the cities International Exhibition a plan was made to build upon the success of the city. A fitting Art Gallery had to be built to show that the city had arrived on the big stage. The partial proceeds from the Expo were used to fund the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and many pieces from the Glasgow Boys were put on display in the city.

Kelvingrove was officially opened in 1901 during the second Glasgow Exhibition. If Glasgow was a trading city in 1888, now it was a fully fledged cultured metropolis. This iconic gallery continues to be the most popular gallery in the city.

Ironically, though, despite the proud history of Glaswegian art, the most famous work in the gallery as of today comes from Spain. Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali.

I get the sense though, that as Glasgow recovers its form to become once again the major city it used to be, the Glasgow Boys, Girls and The Four will become well known again.

ON THE MAP

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