Paint Schoodic

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Painting a cold, dark land

Henry Raeburn’s The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch  (better known as The Skating Minister) manages to romanticize both the landscape and the Scottish character.
The rise of Romanticism meant that the Scots were no longer defined (by themselves or others) as a marginal, occupied people; they were now dramatic, rugged primitives. What then to do with their landscape, which might be considered by any objective person as intimidating, cold, dark and empty? Romanticize it, of course!

The Falls of Clyde (Corra Linn), by Jacob More (c. 1771)
The actual Corra Linn. Bears a remarkable resemblance to Letchworth, doesn’t it?
Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840) is generally considered the founder of the Scottish romantic landscape tradition. Trained under Allen Ramsey as a portrait painter, he abandoned that genre entirely for landscape painting. The generation of landscape painters that followed popularized the romantic view of Scotland. These included Horatio McCulloch, William McTaggart, and Joseph Farquharson. McCullogh’s images of the Scottish highlands, in particular, were reproduced and displayed in homes throughout Great Britain.

Loch Lomond, Horatio McCulloch, 1861
The actual Loch Lomond.
When Queen Victoria acquired Balmoral Castle in 1848, she was operating within a growing fashion for things Scottish. A Scottish Grand Tour developed, with large numbers of English artists flocking to the Highlands to paint and draw. A whole series of seashore artists’ colonies developed in Scotland to cater to that new fad, plein air painting.

There are obvious aesthetic similarities between the Scottish romantics and their Hudson River counterparts. There are also ideological parallels between the Scots, the Canadian Group of Seven and the Australian Heidelberg School. All three helped define and champion nationalist self-image and goals. And the gap between what was real and what they painted is well worth considering.


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