Friday, October 01, 2010

A Galloway Landscape

George Henry, A Galloway Landscape, 1889

While in Scotland I visited the Kelvingrove Museum's exhibition 'Pioneering Painters: The Glasgow Boys 1880–1900' (it was full of visitors, very popular).  Among the works on show was George Henry's experimental Galloway landscape, which mystified contemporaries. A reviewer from the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times wrote in 1890 that 'it may be clever but it is not art.  It is utterly destitute alike of perspective, atmosphere, and poetry, three very serious defects, as we take it, in a landscape picture.' The painting has many admirers today, including broadcaster Andrew Marr who praises it in the current RA magazine. 'A truly great painting is endlessly mysterious and never quite reveals its secret. The flatness, the hot haze of umbers, pinks and yellow-olive, and the radical design of the dark burn or small river in the foreground, added by the artist to the ‘real’ view, can be continuously analysed. Perhaps Henry is nodding to Hokusai, yet there is also something of the Dutch Golden Age, and something, too, of the late landscape pastels of Degas, but in the end it’s a mystery, and I know of no painting that is like it.'

Dumfries and Galloway Council have started a website, Artists Footsteps, which features various paintings by the Glasgow Boys. 'Landscape and light have combined to lure painters to live and work in the area for at least 200 years. The Artists’ Footsteps website documents the landscape paintings, their artists and the places that inspired their work.'  In the case of  Galloway Landscape they cannot provide a specific site - 'although some have tried to identify the location of the painting it seems a pointless exercise.  It is simply a hill, a burn and some cows.'

In 1893 the dealer Alexander Reid and shipping magnate William Burrell paid for George Henry to travel to Japan with fellow artist E. A. Hornel - some of the paintings they did there have been on show at the Kelvingrove exhibition.  The two artists had collaborated in 1890 on The Druids – Bringing in the Mistletoe (1890), a kind of combination of Japonisme and Celtic Revivalism.  There is an interesting Tate Paper by Ysanne Holt which sees the same combination in a Japanese garden Hornel later designed at his home in Kirkcudbright (her photographs put me in mind of Little Sparta).  Planted with pink Japanese wind flowers, magnolia, and cherry trees, it included, in addition to Japanese elements like a lily pond and stone lanterns, 'relics of local origin; meal querns, curling stones, a tiny stone trough (actually an ancient coffin for a young child), an eleventh or twelfth century wayside cross from nearby Dalshangan village and a collection of stones, some decorative or inscribed, purloined from the ruins of nearby Dundrennan Abbey.'

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