Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Story of Scottish Art


Not only do we have a half-decent programme about a neglected subject, The Story of Scottish Art, but we have an actual artist competently presenting it (Lachlan Goudie), and he manages to speak about his subject in an engaging, intelligent, logical, informed way.  And even does some painting and sketching of his own along the way.


Here's the man himself, looking every bit like the cliched artiste at large (but he does rock a mighty fine waistcoat).

In this second episode, the story has jumped forward 600 years from the Picts to The Enlightenment of the 1700s, when forward-thinking artist Scots were unafraid to have many strings to their bows - architecture, engineering etc - and were fearless in depicting their sitters as real people, with insight and honesty.  Step forward Allan Ramsay.

This is a self-portrait, and it's just a stunning, stunning thing (it was sold at Christie's just in 2008).  The detail of the skin of the face is just astoundingly real - I've no idea how he did it.  The painting shows a guy who's brimming with confidence but not arrogance, an intelligent man you'd like to meet and have a chat with.  Although, if you're painting your self portrait as a kind of business card for potential clients, that's pretty much how you'd portray yourself.

See a clip about Allan Ramsay in Rome here.

Also in this episode was Horatio McCulloch, he of velvety Glencoe fame. This is the gloweringly sultry Mr McCulloch - twas ever thus that artists were mean and moody, eh?  And he's rocking a mighty fine waistcoat as well, along with a saucy palette.  All in all, it's quite a business card too.

Horatio McCulloch, Hill and Adamson, 1847

And this is Glencoe.  I like to describe landscapes as self-portraits, and if ever a landscape WAS a self-portrait, this is it.

Horatio McCulloch, Glencoe (Oil on canvas, 1864)

McCulloch's depiction was very much a product of its Victorian time - defining Scotland in romantic, sublime terms, a wild, untamed place with just a hint of shortbread.  It created Scotland as a  brand, as a rugged playground for the rich.  Feel free to shoot those pretty deer in the foreground, the local population won't bother you - they've all been handily cleared off. 

Having said all that, it's a really wonderful painting in the flesh - beautiful, expressive, painterly, textural brushwork from someone who actually knew the landscape.  I just love the mountains, because they really do have a velvety, tactile texture to them.  It's very sensual. It draws you in and seduces you with its detail.

See a clip about Horatio McCulloch's Glencoe here.

Looking forward to the next episodes!

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