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My Favourite Scottish Work of Art: Barbara Rae

By Barbara Rae, 08.04.2021
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Sir James Guthrie, To Pastures New, 1883. Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

My dilemma was choosing between James Guthrie PRSA and Sir Henry Raeburn RA RSA. Raeburn's Sir John and Lady Clerk of Penicuik, is one preference because of its innovative composition and fluid paintwork. It might have been first choice were it not for Guthrie's To Pastures New

I have two Guthrie favourites: A Funeral Service in the Highlands, has a rhythmic composition similar to his To Pastures New, an image of a young girl herding white geese, but the latter captivates utterly, full of spontaneity and life.

Sir James Guthrie, A Funeral Service in the Highlands, 1882. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum / Glasgow Museums.

At first glance it seems a simple, uncomplicated narrative; careful study reveals a sophisticated abstract tonal composition, full of geometric shapes breaking up the forms. The low horizon holds together the gaggle of geese within the structure. Cutting off one goose partially at the edge of the painting accentuates the forward movement he captures so well. Amusing to learn the work was created in Guthrie's studio, not out in the field, accomplished with only the girl as model, one live goose, and one stuffed goose! 

I could have chosen any of Guthrie's works for any number of painterly reasons. I admire all of his work, proud of my Guthrie Medal awarded by the Royal Scottish Academy of which he was a President.

Barbara Rae, Almond Farm, Ojen, c. 1992. The Fleming Collection. © Barbara Rae.

Barbara Rae CBE RA RSA RE was born in Falkirk and studied at Edinburgh College of Art, graduating in 1965 with an award of a travel scholarship, taking her to France and Spain. This began a life long passion for travels, the influence of which forms a blend of landscape and painterly abstraction. She rejects being categorised as a landscape painter. The attraction lies principally in the history of a location and its people, topography is of less interest. She studies how elements are altered by the hand of humankind and the ravages of weather. Simply put, she records time passing.

Rae's first solo exhibition was in 1967 at the New 57 Gallery in Edinburgh. Rae then went on to teach and lecture art in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow. Rae was elected President of the Society of Scottish Artists in 1983, a member of the RSA in 1992 and a Royal Academician in 1995. In addition to many honorary university doctorates, she was awarded a CBE in 1999.. Rae lives and works in Edinburgh. Other work by Barbara Rae in the Fleming Collection can be found here.

Barbara Rae.

Sir James Guthrie PRSA HRA RSW LLD (1859 – 1930) was born in Greenock, a son of the manse. Guthrie was educated at Glasgow’s Academy and University, until dropping out to pursue his calling as an artist. He worked briefly in London with the narrative painter, John Pettie, one of the hugely successful ex-patriate Scots working in the capital, although he learnt more from another of the circle, John Roberston Reid, a painter of rural subjects, which presaged the stark realism of the group known as the Glasgow Boys. Guthrie learnt as much if not more on painting retreats in the country with his close friends, Edward Walton and Joseph Crawhall, such as at the Berwickshire village of Cockburnspath.

Although Guthrie had no direct contact with developments in France, in London he had many opportunities to see the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose influence on the works and the development of the Glasgow Boys cannot be overstated. He was the leading advocate of French tonal painting, his works seeming to present the viewer to a matter-of-fact and unsentimental vision of reality. He used a square brush to give a flat surface, adapting the patterns of his brushstrokes to the purposes of description. Guthrie was to adopt more vigorously than his contemporaries this technique of using a square brush and the putty-like textures, so favoured by Bastien-Lepage. Discover more about Guthrie and his Scottish contemporaries in our recently published book The Glasgow Girls and Boys

Sir James Guthrie. Artist and President of the Royal Scottish Academy (Self-portrait), c. 1905. National Galleries of Scotland. Purchased 1959.

Other artworks in the series 'My Favourite Scottish Work of Art' have been selected by Prof. Murdo MacdonaldNeal AschersonBrandon LoganJock McFadyenSam Ainsley (twice), Andrew O'HaganDenise MinaCaroline WalkerJohn ByrneSir James MacMillanJoyce W CairnsSir Tim RiceAlison WattIan RankinJoanna LumleyNeil MacGregorKirsty WarkMichael Portillo and James Naughtie.