By John Inglis
The Glasgow Boys, a group of painters all associated with Glasgow School of Art but not all from Glasgow were considered “provincial” in British art history until about forty years ago. They have benefitted from devolution and the subsequent attention paid to Scotland’s cultural heritage. They were, in fact, a cosmopolitan group with wide experience and training throughout Europe where they exhibited and were appreciated. Their revolutionary work was produced at a time of rejection by the Edinburgh art establishment and the Glasgow Art Institute. All that was to change in later life but, during the 1880s and 90s, they changed the course of landscape painting and injected a note of sympathetic realism in the depiction of rural labour.
The Boys rejected the romanticised and mystical renderings of highland scenery and couthy, sentimental, peasant scenes which were current in painting at the time and which they described as ‘gluepot’, heavily varnished products of the indoor studio. They made landscape immediate and local helping the viewer to feel immersed in it, a sensation aided by their determination to paint directly out of doors ,” en plein air”, often on painting expeditions to Moniaive, Cockburnspath or Big o’Turk. Their depictions of Scottish rural labour were sympathetic and gutted of all Victorian embellishments, appearing human and approachable, indicating a closeness and understanding between the painter and his subject. To democratise the landscape and paint working people with realism and sympathy were not fashionable for Victorian artists but the Boys supported and helped each other, finding encouragement in the interest taken in them by one or two far –sighted, Glasgow, gallery owners.