Lot 28: ARTHUR MELVILLE A.R.S.A. (SCOTTISH 1855-1904) A STREET SCENE IN TANGIER 12cm x 16cm (4.75in x 6.25in) and a companion similar 11.5cm...
December 8, 2016
Edinburgh, United KingdomLive Auction
ARTHUR MELVILLE A.R.S.A. (SCOTTISH 1855-1904)
A STREET SCENE IN TANGIER
pencil and watercolour, inscribed on a label verso
12cm x 16cm (4.75in x 6.25in) and a companion similar 11.5cm x 11.5cm (4.5in x 4.5in) (2)
Provenance:The Sanderson Collection, Talbot House Edinburgh
Note: Though the majority of their best known works were executed in oils, one of the most interesting and under-explored threads which connect the Glasgow Boys and their practice is their rare facility with the medium of watercolour. In this sale we are lucky to be able to present fine examples by several of the key protagonists of the group, allowing us the opportunity to explore why watercolour suited the artistic developments they sought to make.
It could be argued that the trait which most strongly characterised this loosely interlinked group of young artists was a collective desire to move away from the aesthetic of the presiding and establishment-approved art which dominated the Scottish institutions of the time. Dark, staid oils which favoured historical and sentimental narrative subject matter over realism and naturalism were the order of the day. The Boys dismissively referred to these laboured, traditional painters as The Glue Pots. In retaliation, they left the dimly lit confines of their studios to seek out the purest light they could find in Scotland; whether along coast of East Lothian or in the villages to the west in Dumfriesshire, adopting the plein air techniques of the French Barbizon School whom they all admired.
Like the French Realists and Naturalists before them, they sought to elevate rural subject matter and further, to emphasise a focus on technique over narrative. Watercolour is a notoriously tricky medium which demands precision and speed but the Boys found it well-suited to their aims and skillsets. It was perfect for exploring atmospheric effects and fleeting movement. As well as mastering sophisticated tonal harmonies, most of the Boys were skilled draughtsmen and this is highly apparent in the deceptively technical compositional constructions of their watercolours.
We know that the Boys themselves valued their watercolours highly and as major aspects of their oeuvre - exhibiting them prominently and asking strong prices. While some critics have argued that the Boys'' oils are diminished by the obvious nature of the French influences they adopted, their use of and mastery of watercolour is truly distinct to their movement and remains shamefully under-documented.