Lot 29: JAMES PATERSON P.R.S.W., R.S.A., R.W.S. (SCOTTISH 1854-1932) PINEWOOD - COVE 35.5cm x 53.5cm (14in x 21in)
December 8, 2016
Edinburgh, United KingdomLive Auction
JAMES PATERSON P.R.S.W., R.S.A., R.W.S. (SCOTTISH 1854-1932)
PINEWOOD - COVE
Signed and dated 1886-9, watercolour
35.5cm x 53.5cm (14in x 21in)
Largely good condition - slight vertical drip mark 19cm from left hand side probably from time of execution - colour largely good for period
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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.
Paterson also favoured complicated compositions; Winter, Moniaive being a classic example. Paterson had his studio on the banks of the river outside the village and regularly used it as a device to draw our eye into and through his paintings of the area. His work is characterised by a relative coolness of palette, as well as an interest in the decorative possibilities of compositional structure.
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.