Pioneering Painters
Until 23 January
The Royal Academy

Pioneering Painters is the first major exhibition in London for over 40 years to celebrate the achievements of the Glasgow Boys.  As the title suggests, the exhibition aims to champion the idea of the Scottish artists as an innovative group who produced some of the most revolutionary painting in Britain in the late nineteenth century. This decision has caused considerable controversy, with many critics questioning what distinguishes the Glasgow Boys as artistic originators in their own right, when their European influences are so overt and obvious.

However, to me, that the exhibition openly maps the group’s responses to contemporary developments taking place in Paris by drawing attention to their clear stylistic influences; hanging paintings by Julien Bastien-Lepage next to work by James Guthrie that was directly inspired by it, seems to negate any such argument. Particularly when you consider that the Glasgow Boys frankly acknowledged their indebtedness to the artists that inspired them. Far from denigration, then, I believe that this curatorial decision reiterates how the European influence evident resulted in works that were radically different from the accepted style of the establishment at the time and how they rebelled against established taste.

Rejecting the tight brushwork, polished finish and heavy use of varnish of the ‘Gluepots’, the older artists they mocked for their staid, old fashioned techniques, the Glasgow Boys were one of the first significant groups of British artists after the Pre-Raphaelites to forge a new style of painting informed by the work of European artists who’s techniques they imitated: Adopting the approach of working directly in front of their subject matter in broadly handled brush strokes.

In my opinion the curation of this exhibition clearly dispels all concerns over the question of Glasgow Boys as pioneering painters. Although I think this is undeniable, regardless of this, the work of the Glasgow Boys is worthy of celebration. With this exhibition The Royal Academy has done just that.

Being at the exhibition was an exhilarating experience. It felt really exciting.  Not just because in my opinion it is long overdue – James Guthrie’s ‘To Pasture’s New’ and ‘A Hind’s Daughter’ have been a favourites of mine for a while now (although admittedly amongst an eclectic selection) but because there was a real buzz in the air, a sense of discovery, a recognition of something great, too much underappreciated until now.  There is still a week left. Don’t miss it.

Categories: Artist Focus

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