‘The Story of Scottish Art’ by Lachlan Goudie – 5000 years of creative spirit and imagination.
Lachlan Goudie certainly knows how to communicate with vicacious exuberance as an artist, broadcaster and writer. This lavishly illustrated survey is a fascinating journey from Pagan crafts to Portraiture and Pop Art, to show how the colourful imagination of Scottish artists became a creative influence worldwide.
With 42 chapters across four distinctive Parts, there is a clear road map to follow, or dip into the historical and artistic era of interest.
Let’s start at the very beginning, as they say, 3,000 BC at Kilmartin Glen, Kintyre where you can see ancient stone Cup and Ring carvings and Standing stones across this Neolithic landscape. Similar stone circles and objects are found on Orkney. Here in 2009, on the Isle of Westray a tiny, sandstone figure of a woman was found buried in the sand: “with disarming simplicity, the artist engraved a nose, two pinpricks for eyes, transforming the pebble into an icon of Neolithic civilisation. … the earliest carving of a human figure ever found in Scotland.”
The Westray Wife” is almost Picasso-esque in its simple, naïve, deconstructed form. Archaeological sites have sourced other bone craftwork and pottery, leading to the Bronze Age and the creation of tools for elaborate brooches and jewellery.
Columba arrived on Iona, from Ireland, in 563, “an isle of big skies and turquoise tides,” a place of peace and spirituality; from early Celtic crosses and the decorative Abbey, artists have always been enticed to visit Iona for generations, to capture its natural beauty.
It is believed that the Book of Kells, the 9th century illuminated manuscripts of four Latin gospels was created by the monks at Columba’s Monastery, Iona – “a masterpiece of Christian art .. a work of transcendental beauty.”
Ancient Pictish craftsmanship is preserved around Aberlemno, Angus, with around 250 sandstone monoliths carved with symbols, crosses, figures, horses and a hunting scene. This is also the subject of the elaborately carved St. Andrews Sarcophagus, (8th – 9th century), featuring a hawk, two lions, a ram and a dog.
The Vikings arrived in the late 8th century, “to colonise the isles, Orkney .. and across the Hebrides.” A treasure trove of Viking sculptures was unearthed at Uig, Isle of Lewis in 1831, a set of 93 figures carved from Greenland walrus ivory and whales teeth – the Lewis Chessmen. It is thought they were made in Trondheim (1150-1175), and brought to Lewis by a merchant on route to Ireland, but buried in the sand for centuries.
As Goudie wittily describes these delicately engraved sculptures: “The figures resemble cartoon characters. .. the wild stare of the king, the bishops’ faces bursting with bug-eyed horror .”
Trade with the Low Countries brought “cargoes of exquisitely carved furnishings and Netherlandish paintings.” This led to the commission of Hugo Van der Goes, a celebrated artist in Bruges to paint a new Alterpiece for the Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity, Edinburgh.
The marriage of James V and Madeline, the daughter of Francis 1 of France led to Royal patronage of the Arts to promote a Renaissance of decorative sculpture and classical painting.
Fast forward to the Union of the Crowns with James VI/1 of Great Britain. His son, Charles 1 was an art collector and commissioned portraits by Van Dyck and Rubens. But George Jamesone from Aberdeen would soon be hailed Scotland’s Van Dyck. To celebrate the Scottish coronation of Charles I, Jamesone painted 109 portraits of the Royal family tree and the King himself with great success.
This encouraged 19 year old Michael Wright to travel from London to Edinburgh to be George’s apprentice, before studying in Rome,“ an unrivalled boot-camp where he acquired technical expertise.”
Charles II was now on the throne and (John) Michael Wright was selected to paint the portrait., a fashionably glamorous portrayal of “a curly-wigged young man with a raised eyebrow and a spiv moustache.”
There is a marvellous narrative about the 22 year old Allan Ramsay on a Grand Tour of Europe in 1736, an early ‘backpacker’, cultural adventure through France and Italy. In the early 1990s, when Goudie was an art student, he “emulated Ramsay’s pilgrimage and spent a year in Rome painting and drawing. An overwhelming experience”.
Ramsay became an eminent portrait artist with “delicate style of brushwork and soft colour palette”, as well as a leading philosopher, central to the intellectual aims of the Scottish Enlightenment.
Henry Raeburn was advised by Sir Joshua Reynolds to study in Italy, before returning home to Edinburgh to set up his studio, painting romanticised, theatrical portraits to great effect.
Moving into the 19th century, the popularity of Landscapes soon took centre stage through Nasmyth, Wilkie and Landseer – “The Monarch of the Glen”, an iconic vision of the majestic wilderness of the Highlands.
“A new generation of truculent art students” would soon shake off tradition. The Glasgow Boys, were a group of artists (Guthrie, Walton, Paterson, Macgregor et al), who were keen to paint en plein air, depicting farming life around Berwickshire, Scottish Borders in the manner of the French Impressionists.
John Lavery went to Paris to be at the heart of this blossoming avant-garde art scene, painting “sun dappled” rowing boats on the river at Grez. Fascinating too to read about the feisty Glasgow College of Art student Bessie Nicol, who went off to Paris in 1892 to study Life Drawing at Academie Colarossi by day, and observe the decadent Bohemian society by night.
A cacophony of creative styles was now embracing the work of Scottish artists. Floral images and geometric lines were interlinked for the architectural designs of Charles Rennie McIntosh, whose modern, minimalist interior décor, created “the greatest genius … a giant of the age rivalling Frank Lloyd Wright and Antoni Gaudi.”
The exuberant portraits and nudes by J. D Fergusson, elegant studies of Edinburgh ladies by Francis Cadell, Samuel Peploe’s exquisitely crafted Still Life paintings and Cezanne-styled landscapes from George Hunter, would soon lead to the collective term, The Scottish Colourists,
From an early struggle to entice dealers, the Colourists’ distinctive, timeless work continue to be a regular highlight at auction house sales today. Cadell and Peploe frequently visited Iona to paint tranquil seascapes.
Then, a fairly brisk sprint through the leading Scottish artists of the 20th century, picking out William McCance, with his bold Cubist form, and the partnership of the two Roberts – McBride and Colquhoun “celebrated as the most pioneering British Artist of his day. Francis Bacon said that he had learnt virtually everything from Colquhoun.”
The era of Abstract Expressionism would soon be the focus with bold, brash canvases by William Gear and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. Read all about the rock ‘n roll life and times of Alan Davie, whose love of jazz and sports cars informed his improvised, energetic compositions. Peggy Guggenheim bought one at a Venice gallery thinking it was by Jackson Pollock – who, in fact, would later attend a private view of Alan Davies’s work in New York, bringing the two artists together.
Move aside Andy Warhol – Eduardo Paolozzi is widely viewed as the Father of Pop Art with his collages of cartoons, food and Coca Cola adverts. “Imagery of popular culture repackaged as art.” This is ‘Meet the People’ (1948) from the series Bunk.
There’s a quick, comprehensive scamper through the careers of Joan Eardley (quirky street kids and dramatic stormy skies) and John Bellany, renowned for his allegorical studies of fishing boats and wild, red haired women of the sea.
The chapter, ‘The Shock of the New ‘ features a handpicked selection of distinguished. diverse artists – the author’s late father, Alexander Goudie and contemporary work by Bruce McLean and John Byrne.
Alison Watt came to prominence while still at the GSA, when she won the John Player Portrait Award in 1987 and soon commissioned to paint a charming portrait of the Queen Mother, complete with Watt’s emblematic tea cup.
Since then, her exemplary, cool, crisply paintings have moved from the figurative to large, meditative studies of draping, flowing fabric. Over recent years, many graduates of Glasgow School of Art have received prestigious awards including Turner Prize winners and nominees – Christine Borland, Martin Creed, Karla Black, Richard Wright.
Lachlan Goudie writes with a flowing, poetic prose to take the reader on a most inspirational, time travelling, artistic journey through the nation’s cultural heritage. With a passion and talent for art as a birthright, he has followed and been inspired by Hebridean seascapes, beloved by the Scottish Colourists, over a century ago.
“The art of Scotland has its own particular accent … in an international trade of inspiration and global creativity. ” Lachlan Goudie
‘The Story of Scottish Art’ by Lachlan Goudie is published by Thames & Hudson – RRP £29.95.