Wednesday, 18 May 2011

'Gillespie and I' & The Glasgow Boys

As I'm currently reading - and thoroughly enjoying - Jane Harris's new book 'Gillespie and I', I thought it might be fun to look up the artists she mentions. While Ned Gillespie, the artist at the centre of the story, is invented, the context is real. Glasgow in the late 1880s was the scene of an artistic revolution, as a loosely-affiliated group of young artists - later known as the Glasgow Boys - sought to portray the world they knew in new and exciting ways.
Earlier this year the Royal Academy in London held an exhibition of their work - the first major London show in forty years. It drew attention to their experiments in technique, particularly painting outside, rather than in a studio, and to their choice of subject matter, which tended to be urban and everyday.

John Lavery, Queen Victoria at the Glasgow International Exhibition 1888
In the book, narrator Harriet Baxter urges Gillespie to paint the crowds at the International Exhibition (1888), but Gillespie is doubtful, commenting that 'nobody wants to buy paintings of the city. They'd far rather hang haystacks and cottar's gardens on their walls.'

EA, Walton, Joseph Crawhall
Hardly has he finished speaking when they spy an artist who is out sketching the crowds. 'It's Lavery - confound him!' Gillespie cries...

Born in Ireland and trained in Glasgow, Sir John Lavery enjoyed a long and illustrious career which was kick-started by his victory in a competition to paint a portrait of Queen Victoria for the 1888 International Exhibition. In the book, Gillespie competes against him but - fortunately for art historians everywhere - comes second.

Joseph Crawhall, The Pigeon
Another artist who gets a mention is Joseph Crawhall, who has the misfortune to be caricatured in a local newspaper; he is 'depicted as a scrawny scarecrow, dour of countenance and sat upon by numerous pigeons and crows'.

WM MacGregor, Vegetable Stall 1884
Gillespie himself recommends 'Guthrie and MacGregor'. The former's painting 'Hard At It' shows an artist at work on the shore at Cockburnspath in Berwickshire - the village where Gillespie yearns to live.

James Guthrie, Hard At It, 1883


  1. Thanks for this background info. I have two thirds the way through "Gillespie and I" and like you, I was really interested to find out the history behind the novel.

  2. Anonymous02 July, 2012

    Thanks for this useful information. I'm already seeing 19th century Glasgow through new eyes as well as enjoying the book.