Having first studied in Manchester School of Art, Stott enrolled at the École des Beaux Arts in the autumn of 1879.8 Almost immediately, it seems, he began to explore the environs of Paris, visiting Fontainebleau and eventually arriving at the artists’ colony recently established in the village of Grez-sur-Loing.
Stott’s important friendships at Grez between 1880 and 1882 were with the moody Irish painter and long-term resident, Frank O’Meara, his girlfriend, Belle Bowes, her painter friend, Bertha Newcombe, the influential American brothers, Thomas Alexander and Lowell Birge Harrison, the cosmopolitan Louis Welden Hawkins, and their occasional visitor, the Scots artist, Arthur Melville. The results of Stott’s first year at Grez were shown at the Salon of 1881 in two canvases, La Tricoteuse and Une Rêve de Midi, which set the tone of his future productions.
It was clear that the Oldham painter had progressed from his classical studies at Gérôme’s atelier to the plein air Naturalism of Bastien-Lepage, tinged with the sentiment of Jean-François Millet. He was interested in creating an all-encompassing view, with a new, wide format, by placing a standard full-length portrait canvas on its side. His scenes of rivers, woodlands and forests touched a rustic resignation which was matched by the moods of nature. His instinct for the great poetic theme lying beneath the surface of reality. Stott’s symbolism might not reach up to michelangelesque grandeur but his simple subject matter has a long lineage in western European art stretching back to Watteau and beyond.
By the mid-nineteenth century, in the age of materialism, a more literal approach was taken in scenes of washerwomen or farmers with livestock. It reverberated in British painting in pictures by James Campbell Noble, John Robertson Reid and Robert Walker Macbeth.
The Glasgow School had been formed and was about to go international; the New English Art Club was established; and by 1889 there had even been an exhibition of London Impressionists. Stott’s works were in the eye of a storm that had engulfed British art.