Landscape Painting in Scotland

Travel through the scenic paintings and learn about the artists that helped to define the perception of Scotland

Discovering Scotland

In the 18th century artists began to approach the landscape with a new romantic feeling. This was part of a wider cultural drive to celebrate and ‘discover’ Scotland.

The Falls of Clyde (Corra Linn) (Probably 1771) by Jacob MoreNational Galleries Scotland: National

Writers and poets contributed to the emergence of Scotland’s national identity. Landscape painting helped to define the perception of Scotland, which is in an artistic accomplishment the nation can be proud of.

Edinburgh from the West (About 1745) by James Norie seniorNational Galleries Scotland: National

Before then, most examinations of landscape painting revolved around the work of individual artists. The principal figures were James Norie and his two sons, who produced topographical paintings of specific places that combined classical idealism with a more Scottish ‘realism’.

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Landscape had become a subject in its own right, and by the mid-century, a number of well established landscape painters had emerged. including Jacob More and Alexander Nasmyth

Fast Castle from below (About 1824) by Rev. John ThomsonNational Galleries Scotland: National

By the early 19th century, images of the landscape emerged that created the view of Scotland as a dramatic wilderness. Artists such as John Thomson and Horatio McCulloch painted recognisable places, but imbued them with drama: rocky cliffs, stormy waters and crumbling castles contributed to the romantic vision of Scotland.

Glencoe, Argyllshire (About 1825) by Horatio McCullochNational Galleries Scotland: National

Artists, writers and tourists were drawn to the Scottish landscape by the writings of the celebrated author Sir Walter Scott. His atmospheric descriptions of the countryside, particularly the Highlands, had a celebratory and patriotic zeal. 

Landscape with Tourists at Loch Katrine (About 1815-20) by John KnoxNational Galleries Scotland: National

John Knox’s work is a prime example of Scott’s influence. 

Entrance to the Cuiraing, Skye (1873) by Waller Hugh PatonNational Galleries Scotland: National

By the later 19th century, grandiose views of castles, lochs and glens were beginning to seem outmoded. A new generation of artists such as Robert Herdman, and Waller Hugh Paton, were absorbing the growing influence of the Pre-Raphaelites. Truthful observation of nature and more humble subjects such as villages and crofts were their aim. 

Inspired by their French counterparts, the late 19th century saw a new spirit of naturalism among Scottish artists, who turned their back on studio painting and began to work outside.

Perhaps the greatest Scottish exponent of outdoor painting was William McTaggart. His work has often been compared with the French Impressionists, but his influences were varied and included the work of the Dutch Hague School, and the dramatic landscapes of John Constable and JMW Turner.

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The foreground figures help establish the scale of this awe inspiring view over the remote Loch Coruisk. Turner skilfully conveys the powerful grandeur of the scene on a small sheet of paper, drawing on his memory and the pencil sketches he made after the spectacular climb from the loch-shore. 

Pastoral (1885) by Sir James GuthrieNational Galleries Scotland: National

The impact of French and Dutch landscape painting in Scotland was most obvious in the work of the Glasgow Boys, such as James Guthrie and William York Macgregor, and later the artists collectively known as the Scottish Colourists, who adopted the brilliant colouring of French post-Impressionists and applied it to Scotland. 

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The strong Scottish tradition of landscape painting carried on throughout the 20th century. A growing awareness of wider British and European movements naturally affected Scottish artists. Abstraction and Surrealism made an impact on the work of William McCance, William Johnstone and Edward Baird. Artists such as James Cowie and James McIntosh Patrick used a similar, hard-edged though more naturalistic style.

More generally, the predominant trend in Scottish landscape painting up to the mid-20th century and beyond is typified by the work of William Gillies and John Maxwell, whose faithful portrayal of the Scottish landscape was stimulated by modernist continental painting, but never subservient to it. This trend carried on into the post-1945 period, notably in the work of Joan Eardley and other artists such as John Houston. Both understood the possibilities offered by abstract art, without abandoning a truthfulness to their original subject matter.

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