About [Scottish Field:
article by T J Honeyman. August 1955]
An artist with a very personal and pronounced outlook, best known
for his paintings of children.
For some time now I have been going out of my way to investigate
the oft-repeated assertion that private patronage of the arts is
a thing of the past. Many older people who are interested in the
arts deplore the fact that in Scotland to-day we do not have the
same number of collectors. They used to fill their homes with paintings
of all sorts and sizes. People with money spent a lot of it on pictures.
And there were more whole-time artists in Scotland; men and women,
who were able to devote their energies exclusively to the job of
producing works of art. To-day, the majority of our artists, for
economic reasons, are compelled to spend far too much of their time
in teaching. And it is not until in later in life they may receive
sufficient inducement to take their courage in their own hands.
In my view, the situation is not as gloomy or as hopeless as it
is often made out to be. Apart altogether from other considerations,
the time is still very far distant when we can rely on either the
state or the municipality becoming the patrons of the arts.
I am aware of a vitality among the Scots artists of to-day. It
warrants a much higher place in British art than has up to now been
conceded. What is required is a dignified and persistent propaganda
to tell the world more about ourselves. For instance, it is not
too much to say that propaganda helped the genius of Bone, Cameron
and McBey to achieve recognition as three great modern masters of
engraving. The same applies with equal force to the famous Glasgow
School. The fame achieved by the school on the Continent and in
America was in the first instance created by the then up-to-date
methods in publicity. The artist who sulks in his studio and consoles
himself with the stimulating thought that posterity will appreciate
him is calculating too much on history repeating itself. So long
as there are four to five million in Scotland, there are patrons
of the arts. They are only buried and we have to dig them out.
Until Scotland is able and willing to support its own sons and
daughters who have surrendered to the overwhelming urge to express
themselves in some art form – music, painting or drama –
the search for support must be continued beyond the national boundaries.
And it does not matter very much if an Englishman or a Frenchman
is the first to tell us that we have bred a genius. Moreover, if
our exiled Scots, for sentimental or other reasons choose to become
interested in the home product, they can do us a great service by
making us feel that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.
This is again the day of the individual in art. If he is one of
a group, he is so mainly for the stimulus of agreeable company.
It is the vigour of personality that marks contemporary Scots art.
We are being shown in our exhibitions to-day that pictures and sculptures
are more than decorations. I think, too, that our artists are proving
that the boast, “We are not an emotional people,” is
One of the most independent of Scots artists is Archibald McGlashan,
R.S.A. I have known him for a long time and it is interesting for
me to recall two sentences I wrote about him nearly twenty years
ago. “Here is a man who has never in the least been ambitious
for academic honours nor complained when these have been tardily
bestowed. He has no ostentation, no feelings of envy or hatred;
his philosophy is that of getting on with the job of work to be
done, hoping that sometimes it may be lucrative enough to supply
the necessaries of life.” Nothing has happened in the intervening
years to lead me to want to change that. According to some, he is
still needlessly stubborn in refusing to conform to what the public
wants and in his resistance to the allure of easy money. It must
have dawned on McGlashan early in his career that art demands exclusive
sacrifice. It requires from its devotees the consecration of their
entire existence, all their intellect and all their labour. I am
proud to be among those who salute him for his loyalty and his integrity.
Archibald McGlashan was born in Paisley and is now in his middle
sixties. He had his basic art training at the Glasgow Art School,
where his principal teacher was Maurice Greiffenhagen, who, along
with the Director, Fra H Newbery, exercised a profound and abiding
influence on their students, to the great advantage of most of them.
Among other prizes, McGlashan won a travelling scholarship which
it made it possible for him to visit Spain and Italy. In 1913 he
spent six months in Madrid copying Velasquez, El Greco and Titian.
He became aware of how much Spain owed to Italy. This discovery
compelled him to continue his studies of the great Italian painters
in their own country.
To speak of influences in any artist’s work is to do nothing
more than indicate a starting point. And it is clear that McGlashan’s
starting is to be found among the Italian masters. He has told me
that he understood the French “moderns” although he
never attempted to paint like them as was the custom among most
his contemporaries. This was not because he adopted a detached or
superior point of view. He was well aware of the fact that the theory
and practice of French art from Impressionism onwards had become
fused with the general trends of European painting. But a disciple
need not be a slave. At this time his independence of view marked
him out as something out of the ordinary run of development in Scottish
art. He was not altogether an isolated figure. Looking back, I associate
with him Robert Sivell and James Cowie. Unlike their fellow students,
these three seemed to stand out as a rebel band who refused to swear
allegiance to France. The “Auld Alliance” was all very
well, but they preferred to build on the foundations established
by the Renaissance masters.
I recollect a mild furore in Glasgow Art Circles when in the late
‘twenties The Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts rejected
two paintings, one by Sivell and the other by McGlashan. They were
important works and each of the artists regarded them as among the
finest they had ever produced. This view I shared and arranged for
them to be exhibited in Alex. Reid’s Gallery.
Sivell and Cowie elected to go in for teaching: they had probably
found a degree of interest in the schools. Each of them has exercised
a very sound influence on their succeeding generation. McGlashan
persevered with the struggle, experiencing many disappointments
and, sometimes, privation. At times he was seriously temped to accept
a commercial post, newspaper work, etc. However, he felt that it
was essential for him to retain his independence and continue the
fight until recognition came. Those who knew him and his work were
quite confident that in due time he would make the grade and become
a notable representative of the west in the age-long competition
with the east.
Unfortunately, those who know are seldom those who are able to
buy, and a man needs more than the faith and devotion of brother
artists to sustain himself. It is necessary to have models. But
models cost money. It is not unlikely that McGlashan’s brilliant
early sketches of his own babies were responsible for a sustained
interest in infants and young children as material for picture-making.
One very fine self-portrait was probably started because his wife
had rebelled at the constant demands on her young family. At any
rate, I choose to think that these pictures of sleeping babies,
exemplifying the beginning of McGlashan’s most notable and
enduring work made all of us aware of an artist with a very personal
and pronounced outlook. He may quarrel with the description, but
I believe it is competent to describe him as a specialist in children’s
portraiture. That does not imply deficiencies when it comes to his
performances in adult portraiture. It certainly defines the nature
of public appreciation and the circumstance of the larger part of
his commissioned work.
What may be described as his London period started in this way.
To keep the pot boiling, I persuaded a friend of mine, Dr James
Harper, a well-known Glasgow surgeon, to allow McGlashan to experiment
with a portrait of one of his sons. The boy was painted in the bright
red blazer of Loretto School. I doubt very much if the finished
result met with the unanimous approval of the family, but among
McGlashan’s friends, including myself, it was accepted as
a strikingly effective piece of portraiture. We managed to get it
included in an exhibition in London, where it created a mild sensation.
I was particularly pleased to hear the reactions of several well-known
London artists, including Duncan Grant and Ethel Walker. They praised
it in most generous terms. One thing led to another and I was able
to persuade McGlashan to come to London for a spell. While waiting
for things to happen he did a portrait of our daughter and the son
of my partner, McNeill Reid. These two were exhibited, and a series
of commissions followed. Most of these were of children of well-known
public figures. Some members of the theatrical profession became
interested, and McGlashan did a number of their portraits. Many
of these were actually done in dressing rooms, between the acts,
whenever and wherever a sitting could be arranged. He had the good
fortune to win the appreciation and respect of Sir Edward Marsh,
celebrated, among other things, as a most persistent first-nighter.
McGlashan’s portrait of Sir Edward, reproduced in colour in
a prominent art magazine, led to much controversial discussion.
It may have been a little too penetrating.
Irrespective of the views of relatives and friends, a portrait
has its own rights as a picture, and this one certainly has.
For a time McGlashan was kept uncomfortably busy. One of his commissions
dragged him to a chateau on the Loire and the prospects of a career
to be continued in America. The prospects did not appear to have
any magnetic pull, for he suddenly became tired of the whole business
and came back home to Glasgow. He may have been homesick. But I
think it is more likely he was afraid he might lose his freedom.
His convictions have always been strong and deep-seated. He has
never allowed flattery or public acclamation to lead him away from
his settled course.
And he has now become one of out elder statesmen, so to speak.
Having attained full academic honours, he continues to live and
work in the first home he had in Glasgow. He married Therese Giuliani
– member of a well-known Glasgow-Italian family. The babies
they reared are children no more. The elder daughter studied Social
Welfare at Glasgow University and has continued in London to take
interest in a wider sphere of activity in the world of committees.
Young John, after obtaining his diploma at the Glasgow School of
Art, is now as a successful free-lance. He achieved the distinction
of a scholarship awarded by Punch, to whose pages he has contributed.
The younger daughter has also followed in her father’s footsteps
to a diploma in art, and also, like him, has ventured into the fields
of matrimony. The children have now contributed two grandchildren
to the McGlashan family.
We keep on harping on babies, but it would be a disservice to Archibald
McGlashan not to mention the flower paintings and the still-life
themes to which he frequently returns. His signature is unmistakable,
s is the occasional butterfly, which, unlike Whistler’s, has
no sting in its tail. But it is the babies, in their cots or in
their prams, or on their mothers’ knees, their eyes closed
or wide open, who convey the conviction: “The man who has
done this must have found great joy in the doing of it”.