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Impressionism and Scotland on View at National Galleries of Scotland
Sir John Lavery, The Tennis Party, 1885. Oil on Canvas 77 x 183.5 cms. © Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums.

EDINBURGH.- This summer, the National Galleries of Scotland presents Impressionism & Scotland, an exhibition of over 100 paintings, pastels and watercolours, which explore the Scottish taste for Impressionism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and assess the impact of modern European art on Scottish art and artists.

Highlights include Renoir’s The Bay of Naples (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), the first Impressionist painting to be bought by a Scot; Degas’s L’Absinthe (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), which was ‘hissed’ when it came up for auction in the early 1890s, due to its ‘depraved’ subject-matter; and Sir John Lavery’s The Tennis Party (Aberdeen Art Gallery), a rare example of Scottish modern life painting. Other major Impressionist works are on loan from private and public collections in the UK, Germany, the USA and Australia. Artists represented in the show include Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, Matisse, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh, as well as the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists.

In the late nineteenth century Scotland was a powerful industrial nation and Glasgow was second city of the British Empire. A rising generation of rich industrialist and mercantile collectors developed a taste for avant-garde European art, many of them acquiring works which are now of international importance. For example, in Aberdeen collectors initially forged links between the artists of the Hague School – the so-called Dutch ‘Impressionists’ – and Scots artists such as George Reid and William McTaggart. Many Scots collectors also acquired the work of Camille Corot and the artists of the Barbizon School; and in Glasgow – under the influence of the art dealer Alexander Reid – they were among the first to invest in the work of Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir and Whistler. Pictures acquired by such collectors were frequently lent to public exhibitions and were seen by contemporary Scottish artists. Exposed to these works in the 1880s and 1890s, artists of the ‘Glasgow School’, such as John Lavery, James Guthrie and E.A. Walton, began to emulate their European contemporaries. They painted in the open air, depicting both rural and modern-life subjects, but they avoided the controversial café scenes of Manet and Degas. They were commonly referred to by critics, sometimes pejoratively, as ‘Impressionists’, even though their essentially tonal style of painting was quite different from the ‘scientific’ Impressionism of Monet and his contemporaries.

In the early twentieth century a new generation of artists emerged in Scotland – S.J. Peploe, J.D. Fergusson, Leslie Hunter and F.C.B. Cadell, later known as the Scottish Colourists. These artists all travelled to France and their early interest in Manet and Impressionism was soon superseded by a fascination with the decorative expressionism of Matisse and the ‘Fauves’. After the First World War Scottish collectors learned to appreciate the Colourists’ brilliant colour and expressive handling and, partly through their influence, turned to Post-Impressionism, acquiring works by Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Matisse.

This exhibition highlights some astonishing parallels between the work of Dutch, French and Scottish artists, whose work is hung side by side: Corot and Walton; Bastien-Lepage and Guthrie; Degas and Crawhall; Manet and Fergusson; Matisse and Hunter. It demonstrates that, in addition to absorbing these powerful influences, Scottish artists developed their own instinctive brand of Impressionism, quite unlike the more analytical approach of the French Impressionists.

Michael Clarke, Director of the National Gallery of Scotland said: ‘This exciting exhibition brings us the best of both worlds. Not only does it bring back to Scotland major works by the Impressionists which were once here, it also tells us a great deal about a very important episode in the development of our own national school of painting.’

Alex Callander, joint senior partner, Baillie Gifford & Co said: ‘It is a privilege to be involved with this marvellous exhibition during our centenary year, an appropriate parallel as some of the pieces on display are around 100 years old. The works in the exhibition also demonstrate the vision of many Scottish collectors, and the great talent of Scottish artists.’

Following its run in Edinburgh, a condensed version of Impressionism and Scotland will be shown at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, from 31 October 2008 to 1 February 2009.

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