In the 1880s a group of young, mainly Scottish artists, came together and started to attract attention with works which rebelled against the formulaic landscapes and narrative subjects of late Victorian Scottish art. The group became known as the “Glasgow Boys”, an informal association of some 20 artists who identified themselves as young artists by claiming noisily to be anti-establishment and rejecting the older generaton of artist whom they called “Glue-Pots”. Its leading figures were James Guthrie, George Henry, E. A. Hornel, John Lavery and E. A. Walton.
Painting all over Scotland and abroad, they became internationally acclaimed for their realist landscape paintings. Kirkcudbright and its surroundings was one of their favoured locations and three of the leading members of the group Guthrie, Henry and Hornel painted some of their best works there. Paterson settled in Moniaive.
The Glasgow Boys’ paintings of the 1880s were among their most radical. Their compositions showed a strong interest in rustic realism, in working in the open air in front of their subject, and in French-inspired tonal and compositional technique. The young artists drew much inspiration from their contemporaries in the Dutch Hague and French Barbizon Schools, and in particular from the great French painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848 – 1884).
By the late 1880s the Boys started to move towards a more decorative approach, partly inspired by their admiration for Whistler and contemporary French art, and later by their travels abroad, including the visit of Hornel and Henry to Japan. The Boys also admired Whistler’s views on art, including his championing of creative individuality and his battles with the art establishment. Like Whistler, they struggled to gain official recognition in Britain, winning accolades instead on the Continent and in America during the 1890s.
As for the claim to be anti-establishment, not only did Guthrie exhibit his first major picture at the Royal Academy in London, but within 20 years of painting it he was president of the Royal Scottish Academy, a meteoric rise to the pinnacle of the Establishment. Guthrie’s young rebellious phase however, as with many of the other Glasgow Boys, only lasted about 15 to 20 years, with many of them becoming traditional society painters.