KIRKCUDBRIGHT: AN ARTISTS' COLONY

  • Kirkcudbright’s reputation as an artists’ colony began with the Faed family of artists in the early 19th century. Five children...
    Thomas Faed ARSA RA (1826-1900), From dawn to sunset, first thoughts, watercolour, 3 1/2 x 5 3/4 inches

    Kirkcudbright’s reputation as an artists’ colony began with the Faed family of artists in the early 19th century. Five children of a millwright at Gatehouse of Fleet, the siblings took inspiration from their surroundings to produce paintings that were exhibited at the Royal Academy and Royal Scottish Academy most notably by John Faed (1819-1902) and his younger brother, Thomas Faed (1826-1900). It was a tradition continued in turn by the next generation. Across the following two hundred years Kirkcudbright and its surrounds became a favoured haunt of The Glasgow Boys, The Kirkcudbright School, and Scottish artists of the 1920s; and the town's artistic traditions remain strong today.

     

    The Fine Art Society’s annual exhibition in Kirkcudbright plays its part, alongside local artists’ exhibitions and the recently opened Kirkcudbright Galleries. We are delighted to be showing the artworks of artists who lived or worked around Kirkcudbright, with this year marking our 43rd exhibition in Galloway, and our 6th at the Harbour Cottage Gallery. Established in 1957, the Harbour Cottage Gallery has shown local artists both during their lifetime and posthumously, and their names make for a roll call of painters that The Fine Art Society have exhibited in Galloway over the years.

  • Kirkcudbright with its surrounding countryside is a gently seductive place. The story of its artists' colony is full of examples...
    John Rankine Barclay (1884-1962), Kirkcudbright, 1919, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches

    Kirkcudbright with its surrounding countryside is a gently seductive place. The story of its artists' colony is full of examples of artists arriving on a summer painting visit and staying on for the rest of their lives. The reasons why Kirkcudbright attracted so many painters and became an artists' colony are easy to see. It was, and remains a particularly attractive small town with wonderful and charming architecture. There is the High Street with its ancient Tolbooth and the 18th century houses enlivened by their variously painted frontages. The whole atmosphere is enhanced by the warm Gulf Stream air that encourages the palm trees. Between the houses are cobbled, crooked wynds, many of which contain artists' and craftsmen's studios. McLellan's Castle, a romantic sixteenth century ruin in the middle of the town, dominates the skyline. When E. A. Taylor asked Hornel why he thought Kirkcudbright was so popular with artists he said, "Well, it's a fine old town and not too big, but big enough to keep you from vegetating."

     

    Taylor himself wrote that as well as being one of the most uniquely beautiful towns in Scotland, 'it is the nearness of unspoilt Nature that makes it the artist's paradise that it is ... not many steps from your doorway the river, the sea, pastoral lands, woodland, rugged hills, moorlands and glens are all within easy reach.' There was also a fusion of time and place. The widespread adoption of painting en plein air in the later nineteenth century, most obviously under the influence of French Impressionism, but also practised earlier in Scotland by Horatio McCulloch, Sam Bough and William McTaggart, moves the artist out of his studio and into the open air, spending more time near his subject matter.

  • The other principal artists' colonies in Great Britain of the same period - Newlyn, Staithes and St. Ives - are...
    George Henry RA RSA RSW (1858-1943), A Galloway Landscape, 1889, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, presented by the Trustees of Sir Thomas Dunlop, 1940

    The other principal artists' colonies in Great Britain of the same period - Newlyn, Staithes and St. Ives - are all, like Kirkcudbright, coastal towns with fishing fleets that give an ever changing scene. The proximity of the sea gives a pellucid transparency, although the white light of St. Ives is very different from the softer light of the Solway. Some of the most enduring imagery of the Kirkcudbright School includes the woodlands and streams of Galloway, perhaps with cattle. It is dramatically and excitingly demonstrated in one of the most influential paintings of the School, George Henry's A Galloway Landscape, 1889. The gorgeous, and at the time shocking, oranges and reds of Henry's best period in the early 1890s were a response to the autumn colouring he found around Kirkcudbright. The land was not intensively farmed; ancient woodlands and small copses grow next to undulating fields with gorse covered knolls bounded by unkempt hedges, making for a landscape that is captivating.

     

    The variety of landscape around Kirkcudbright, and the changing colours of the seasons, was a rich source for the painters. Most found it inspirational but there was the occasional dissenter: S. J. Peploe, writing to his wife in the late spring of 1931, complained of the 'lush grass and green trees - you can see nothing for leaves - no distance, nothing for the imagination'.

     

    This 'green and golden province', as E. A. Taylor called Galloway, would not have attracted so many artists if it had not been relatively accessible. From 1864 under the aegis of the Glasgow and South Western Railway, Kirkcudbright had its own railway station. Edinburgh and Glasgow, the two cities where the major exhibitions and the art dealers were to be found, could be reached in a few hours. Peploe, again writing to his wife in 1931, from The Selkirk Arms Hotel, complained, 'I would go mad if I had to live here.' He did not have to because he made his frequent trips to Kirkcudbright from Edinburgh by train.

    • Sir James Guthrie HRA PRSA HRSW Cambuskenneth Ferry, 1888 signed pastel on paper 10 x 17 1/2 inches
      Sir James Guthrie HRA PRSA HRSW
      Cambuskenneth Ferry, 1888
      signed
      pastel on paper
      10 x 17 1/2 inches
    • Edward Arthur Walton RSA PRSW The Field Loning, c.1903 signed oil on canvas 31 x 39 1/2 inches
      Edward Arthur Walton RSA PRSW
      The Field Loning, c.1903
      signed
      oil on canvas
      31 x 39 1/2 inches
    • Edward Atkinson Hornel Girls and Swans, 1901 signed and dated 1901 oil on canvas 30 x 14 inches
      Edward Atkinson Hornel
      Girls and Swans, 1901
      signed and dated 1901
      oil on canvas
      30 x 14 inches
    • Harrington Mann The Brook, 1892 signed and dated 1892 oil on canvas 15 x 13 inches
      Harrington Mann
      The Brook, 1892
      signed and dated 1892
      oil on canvas
      15 x 13 inches
  • During the decade and a half that Kirkcudbright became what was called the 'Glasgow School in the Country', most of the Glasgow Boys came to the south west to paint. This would probably not have been the case if Hornel, who was one of the most important and artistically adventurous of their number, had not made Kirkcudbright his home. George Henry would return to Glasgow full of enthusiasm for the place and everyone could see, from the paintings that he and Hornel exhibited at home and abroad to such acclaim, what an intensely inspirational place it must be. Hornel, more convivial and not the curmudgeon that he was later to become, was responsible for both the coterie of artists who made Kirkcudbright their home – W. S. MacGeorge, William Mouncey, T. B. Blacklock and William Hanna Clark amongst them - and the major artists who visited such as George Henry, James Guthrie, David Gauld and W. Y. McGregor. He was a charismatic and avant-garde figure and acted as a magnet to Kirkcudbright.

     

    The catalyst, however, for the arrival of artists in the Stewartry, was the phenomenon of the Faed family of Barlae Mill near Gatehouse of Fleet.

     

    Reference: 'Kirkcudbright: 100 years of an artists' colony', ed. Patrick Bourne, Atelier Books, 2000

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