I have a particular fondness for paintings of the Isle of Arran, partly because I spent my formative years looking at the Arran hills, especially the largest peak “Goat Fell”, from where I lived, across the Firth of Clyde, on the Ayrshire coast.
There is a tradition in Scottish landscape painting of showing the Arran hills in profile from across the Firth. (There is an old joke about it: “If you can’t see Arran it’s raining, if you can, it’s about to rain.”) Some of the best examples are by William McTaggart but the practice continues with contemporary artists, the best of whom might be the architect turned painter John Bell.
There is also a tradition of artists visiting and living on the island, painting the views of the hills and the glens that surround them. There is plenty to occupy them. Arran is often described as representing the geography of Scotland in miniature. There is a northern mountainous area but also a gentle rolling hills and almost flat pasture in the south. That variety in a relatively small area makes it an attractive venue for painters.
Despite the range of artists who have tackled the subject my favourite painter of Arran views is still rather obscure. James Lawton Wingate (1846 – 1924) didn’t start out as an artist but ended his days as President of the Royal Academy in Scotland.
He was born in Glasgow and rather than have a formal art education he started to work as a commercial clerk. He did however attend drawing lessons early in the morning before going to work. Art soon appears to be the passion that takes over his life and by 1864, aged 18, he is exhibiting at the Glasgow Fine Art Institute.
From 1874 he moved to Crieff and later to Muthill (in Perthshire). To be honest I don’t have much time for his early work which is heavily influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and presents a very romanticised version of harsh nineteenth century Scottish rural life.
But something happens to Wingate on Arran. Later in life, around the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century, he loosens up – he becomes freer in his handling of paint – he becomes a Scottish impressionist.
This emancipation can probably be best seen in the way his views of Arran change. This is his 1869 painting of Glen Rosa, with its obsessive Pre-Rapahelte attention to detail:
And this is another view from the early 1900s:
Suddenly we start to see evocative sunsets and dramatic skies painted with sweeping brush strokes and smears of paint. There are a whole series of them; sunsets over Goat Fell, the valleys of Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa and the sea and landscapes of Kilbrannan Sound.
In 1910 Lawton Wingate illustrates a book on Arran by MacKenzie McBride called “Arran of the Bens, the Glens and the Brave”. It is a compilation of stories, history and romances about the island. The interest for me though are the sixteen illustrations of Lawton Wingate’s Arran views which show how, by 1910 he had moved to the more fluid impressionist style of his later years.
The first illustration in the book is a view of “Goat Fell from the road between Lamlash and Brodick”
I don’t know what happened to the original painting this illustration is based on. I can’t seem to track it down but last year I did come across and managed to buy this oil sketch:
The view is very similar to that in the book illustration and is recognisable to anyone who has spent time on Arran. It shows the mountain of Goatfell in the distance and in the foreground a track with a woman and child in Edwardian summer clothes walking down the hill towards the town of Brodick.
My picture may be an oil sketch for the later, more detailed view illustrated in the book. (The view seems to have acquired a telegraph pole in the book version which might suggest that is later.)
The view hasn’t changed much. The modern road takes the same route and you can find where Lawton Wingate must have painted from by looking at google street view: