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Scottish Art History : The Glasgow Boys

Updated on September 30, 2012
A Summer Morning by  E.A Walton
A Summer Morning by E.A Walton | Source

The Glasgow Boys

During the nineteenth century, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the city of Glasgow in the south-west of Scotland was booming. This brought great benefits to its people but also led to squalid living conditions in an urban centre which was expanding at a pace faster than any other city in Scotland. By the 1880s, Glasgow was one of the most important cities in the British Empire with its shipbuilding and trade.

From this urban sprawl, developed an artists' collective, known as the Glasgow Boys, whose art looked beyond the city to the rural landscape of Scotland, from where they drew inspiration. Influenced by French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, the Glasgow Boys expanded and developed the genre and produced an incredible body of work which proves a popular draw for art lovers at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum.

Thomas Mille Dow
Thomas Mille Dow | Source
William York MacGregor
William York MacGregor | Source
James Paterson
James Paterson | Source
James Guthrie
James Guthrie | Source
John Lavery
John Lavery | Source

Who Were The Glasgow Boys?

Well, behind the rather austere Victorian photographs you see here, were some of Scotland's most innovative artists of the late nineteenth century. There were around 20 artists associated with the Glasgow Boys, including those pictured.

Thomas Millie Dow (1848-1919)

Painting in oils, watercolours and pastels, Thomas Millie Dow produced an interesting range of work which included landscapes and portraits. He studied in Paris before moving to Glasgow in 1880 at which point he became associated with the Glasgow Boys. He spent some time in the United States and travelled in Europe, particularly in Switzerland and Germany. A celebrated artist in his own lifetime, his work remains popular today.

William York MacGregor (1855 - 1923)

A graduate of the prestigious Glasgow School of Art, landscape artist William York MacGregor is often referred to as the 'father' of the Glasgow Boys. His studio in Glasgow became the meeting place for many of the members of the group.

James Paterson (1854-1932)

Paterson trained at the Glasgow School of Art and was the first of the Glasgow Boys to study in France. As well as being an accomplished painter, Paterson was also something of a photographer and some of the images he captured formed the basis for his paintings, including a portrait of his wife, Eliza. Paterson also painted landscapes and it is for this that he is now best known.

James Guthrie (1859-1930)

Although initially best known as a portrait painter. James Guthrie is now celebrated for capturing scenes of Scottish life in rural locations. One of his best known pieces is 'A Funeral Service In The Highlands', a masterpiece capturing an everyday event. He was also known for portraiture and for his work in pastels.

John Lavery (1856-1941)

Irishman John Lavery studies art in London and Paris before becoming a part of the group known as the Glasgow Boys. He first gained prominence as a portrait painter and also painted scenes of contemporary life. He moved to London in 1918 and was knighted for his services to art.

When the Glasgow Boys staged their first joint exhibition in 1885 in Glasgow, the art establishment buzzed with excitement at the bold use of colour and the diverse subject matter capturing the world beyond the city streets. Their paintings still create a great deal of interest and exhibitions of their work are shown around the world. Other members of this group include Joseph Crawhall, George Henry, E.A Walton, Alexander Roche, Arthur Melville and James Nairn.

St Ives Harbour By Thomas Millie Dow
St Ives Harbour By Thomas Millie Dow | Source

St Ives Harbour

Thomas Millie Dow moved with his family from Glasgow to St Ives, Cornwall in 1894. Dow painted scenes from the area surrounding his new home frequently. He used pastels and oils to paint various locations and one which he returned to over and over again, was the harbour at St Ives.

Here, the harbour is shown on a bright and sunny day in an idyllic scene with boats bobbing on the water. Dow also painted the harbour at night..

Crail, Fife by William York MacGregor
Crail, Fife by William York MacGregor | Source

Crail, Fife

Crail is a pretty little village in Fife, on the east coast of Scotland. This image captures a scene from everyday life. The Glasgow Boys often sought out subjects from real life to provide the focus for their work.

The painting housed in the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling, Central Scotland.

Edinburgh by James Paterson
Edinburgh by James Paterson | Source


Although a prolific amateur photographer, James Paterson believed that drawing was a superior method of recording impressions of a person or place. He moved to Edinburgh in 1905 and began to paint different aspects of the city such as this view of the castle.

Frederick C Gardiner by James Guthrie
Frederick C Gardiner by James Guthrie | Source

Portrait of Frederick C Gardiner

James Guthrie was an accomplished painter of portraits and this one depicts his cousin, Frederick Gardiner who was one of the founders of a thriving shipping company in the late 1800s. During the late nineteenth century, the shipping industry was thriving in Glasgow and many wealthy businessmen sought out artists like Guthrie to immortalise them in portraits.

Boating on the Thames by John lavery
Boating on the Thames by John lavery | Source

Boating on the Thames

After settling in London in 1918, John Lavery began to paint images of everyday events, such as this rather idyllic scene of people boating on the River Thames on a warm, sunny day,

This particular painting is oil on canvas.


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  • ElizaDoole profile image

    Lisa McKnight 5 years ago from London

    Love it love it! Last time I visited Glasgow I enjoyed the gallery in the middle of the city. The Town Hall I think it is called? I was astounded by the range and complexity of paintings there and how you could linger and look as much as you liked. Voted up and thanks!

  • Melovy profile image

    Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

    Strangely enough, given that I went to art college in Scotland, we learned very little about the Glasgow Boys. So I’ve seen their work, but know little about their lives and learned a good bit from this hub. Thanks for the information!

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    Vanderleelie 5 years ago

    Thank you for your response, allimacb. I enjoyed this hub, and learned about a group of artists that I was not familiar with. In Canadian art history, we have the Group of Seven who shared a bold style and love for plein air landscape painting in the wilderness of Algonquin Park. Marked interesting and voted up.

  • alliemacb profile image

    alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

    Hi Vanderleelie

    The group's common thread was that they were doing work which was different to the established art in Scotland at the time. They used bolder color and they took themselves out of the studio and into the real world around them. There is a common theme in much of their work of adapting the French Impressionist style. They were also connected by their associations with the city of Glasgow and met regularly to share ideas. They also exhibited as a group and took the Scottish art scene by storm - they were seen in their day as being very forward thinking and exciting. There were no images available to me of many of their paintings so the examples shown don't necessarily illustrate their connections as well as I would like.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment on the hub.

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    Vanderleelie 5 years ago

    It appears that the group members had varied styles, so their association was not really bound by a common formal approach. Did the group have some other connection - social, philosophical or academic, or was it simply shared rural subject matter that brought them together?

  • blaeberry profile image

    blaeberry 5 years ago from Scotland

    Interesting hub. I had never heard of The Glasgow Boys. Voted up

  • alliemacb profile image

    alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

    Thank you for taking the time to comment on this hub. The Glasgow Boys are amongst my favorite Scottish artists.

  • alliemacb profile image

    alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

    Thanks for your fab comments and for stopping by this hub.

  • kittyjj profile image

    Ann Leung 5 years ago from San Jose, California

    I just learned something new from you. Now I know what and who the Glasgow Boys are. Loved the pictures.

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful hub.

  • profile image

    Emer420 5 years ago

    This is a fascinating hub. I love it. :)