Thursday, 21 January 2016

The BBC2 TV series, "The Story of Scottish Art", is an absolute revelation and a delight

Les Eus, John Duncan Ferguson c.1910

I wasn't all that keen to watch this series presented by Scottish artist Lachlan Goudie, suspecting it would be full of nationalistic fervour and glum anti-Sassenach resentment, and too many paintings of dour miserablists looking cold. But my wife wanted to see it - and who am I to argue? I missed the first episode (okay, that was deliberate, because the word "Neolithic" appeared in the description and, for me, that is never an enticement). But the second and third instalments were unalloyed delights from start to finish: the third, in particular, which dealt with the late-Victorian Glasgow Boys and the next, early 20th Century generation, was full of surprises - absolutely stuffed with terrific artists I'm ashamed to say I'd mostly never heard of, and paintings of extraordinary accomplishment and (in many cases) genuine originality. Many of the canvases exploded with warmth and colour and sensuousness - no slur intended on the Scottish people, but those aren't necessarily attributes I'd automatically associate with them.

You'll have guessed by now that John Ferguson (1874-1961) didn't create these in a tenement off Sauchiehall Street: he moved first to Paris, and then (until the outbreak of the First World War) to Cap d'Antibes, which probably accounts for this splendid work:

Another painter who stood out was Arthur Melville (1858-1904), a true roister-doister adventurer, who travelled through the Middle East and Turkey and eventually fell under the sway of Paris. His medium was water-colour, of which he was evidently an absolute master (one of the great things about Goudie's presentation is that he's an artist himself, so he was able to show the difficulties of Melville's technique of applying paint to wet paper, which requires speed and instinct):

I'll leave you with some fine paintings by Sir John Lavery (1856-1941) (who was Belfast-born, but studied in Glasgow, and was associated with the Glasgow Boys):


The fourth and final instalment of The Story of Scottish Art is on BBC Two next Wednesday, and the first three episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer, here


  1. Whole-hearted agreement from me. The Scottish Colourists were outstanding, marvellous landscapes and seascapes from the islands on the west coast, bright light and bright colours.
    The galleries in Glasgow are full of treasures.

    1. But to visit those galleries would mean having to actually visit Glasgow, Riley! Having said that, I've just looked at the Kelvingrove Gallery website (I haven't been to the gallery since I were a lad) and it really does sound superb. The Glasgow Boys and Mackintosh collections look mouth-watering - and it's even got a spitfire!

    2. Spread your wings: Glasgow is a marvellous city. The Hunterian Gallery is stuffed full of treasures and there is a vibrant current art scene there thanks to the Glasgow Art School despite the recent fire. It's a fine example of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
      I was in Glasgow in December last year, had a Chinese meal at lunchtime and then found myself in the city centre pub - The Horseshoe - and paid £7.95 for a bottle of red wine, and it really wasn't as bad as one might expect...

  2. The Vanishing Cockney26 January 2016 at 05:03

    Leaving London for a trip to Glasgow would be quite a wrench I suppose.