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Exploring the Evolution of Scottish Visual Arts

Scottish art assumes no distinct movement. Like Scotland’s landscape, it embraces organic fluidity and exceeds any form of categorisation. Instead, Scottish art permeates the timeline of Art History by diffusing innovation along its line.

Scottish schools of art education — developed in nineteenth-century Edinburgh and Glasgow — provided an organic space for creativity and development. The umbilical cord snipped, and innovation was its scissors. Colour and combined line coupled with an inventive approach to subject matter vehicled this innovation and marked the distinct flourishing of a new Scottish scene. The country’s new consciousness for national identity, sparked by the nineteenth-century Celtic Revival, is arguably the wood for ambition’s fire to flourish the artistic scene. The Revival formulated as a result of archaeological discovery and Scotland’s gradual quest for an established Scottish national identity, vocalised in the 1707 Act of Union.

The Glasgow Style was one impactful permeation to the timeline and surfaced in the late 1890s. An interest in realist painting and response to the Art Nouveau movement fabricated the style and stimulated innovation. Popularised by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the style was applied to symbolist genre painting and characterised by subtle tones of pink, purple, and green, with black and white contrasts which lent to its distinct illustrative style.

A disorientation of style and informal movements incessantly permeated the timeline and Paris was a key stimulus for Scottish style. The Scottish Colourists were an emerging collective fashioned off Parisian inspiration, most notably Parisian fauvism orchestrated by Matisse and Derain. Around 1910, the Scottish Colourists produced a style distinct from brilliantly coloured expressionistic paintings. Whilst the abstract application of colour rejected academic tradition, their subject matter of still life and landscape remained traditional. The paradoxical coupling of abstract innovation and traditionalism surfaced in their progressive attitudes and placed them at the forefront of modern Scottish painting. Their application of Modernism’s colouring and abstraction to traditional subject matter prevailed in Scottish art throughout the following twentieth-century.

Most recently, a group called the New Glasgow Boys established themselves in their response to the international revival of interest in ambitious figure painting. The youthful connotations of “Boys” in their name appropriately reflect the group's marketing image of a new and bold generation with a distinctive naturalistic style. The cultural hub of Rome was a key stimulus for the group and an expression of neo-classism was introduced and adopted for flourishment. The group's close association with the Glasgow School of Art led them to be dubbed their group name in the 1980s, and its forceful imagery attached to them an educated innovation of artistic style.

It is clear that Scottish art did not develop in isolation; instead, the movement has contributed to and benefited from a wider artistic evolution. Like its landscape, it is an organically fluid development of movements and an ongoing permeation.

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