Their style was not homogenous - however, there were certain themes which predominated. They were realists, rejecting the classical academic tradition. The earlier Boys were strongly influenced by the Barbizon School, painting poor countryfolk and rural scenes en plein air before finishing their works in the studio. Jules Bastien-Lepage was their exemplar, his naturalism having proved popular and widely exhibited in Scotland. From him, they absorbed the looser brushwork and flat tonalities that are typical of their early work. This is exemplified in James Guthrie's early work "A Funeral Service in the Highlands", where the grey funereal tones remind one of the similarly Barbizon-influenced Hague School.
|To Pastures New by James Guthrie|
Aberdeen Art Gallery
In 1883,Guthrie, Walton and Crawhall went for the summer to Cockurnspath in Berwickshire, which was to be come a regular favorite of the Boys. They would be joined over the next few years by George Henry, EA Walton, Arthur Melville and Alexander Roche amongst others. In this period, Henry and Walton's work - following Bastien-Lepage- becomes flatter, more concerned with composition and the effects of light, whilst Guthrie's "Schoolmates" reminds me of the more traditional compostions of Millet.
Whilst Barbizon was a major influence, several of the Glasgow Boys, including Melville, Roche, Lavery and Dow, spent some summers in nearby Grez-sur-Loing, which had the advantages of being cheaper and easier to get to. A large international artists community was based there, and William Stott of Oldham in particular was an influence on those who painted there. John Lavery spent the summers of 1883 and 1884 there, but when he returned to Glasgow he saw Guthrie's "To Pastures New" which influenced him to remain in Scotland, where he brought his skills increasingly to document the emerging Glaswegian middle classes and in particular the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888.
|The Druids : Bringing in the Mistletoe|
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Henry and Hornel travelled to Japan in 1893. By this time the work of the Glasgow Boys had been successfully exhibited in London and then at the Munich Glaspalast. From then on, success came easily for the leading Boys. Guthrie and Lavery became established as society portraitists. Crawhall became the leading exponent of gouache on linen (to my mind "Horse and Cart with Lady" is unequalled). Arthur Melville's watercolours have a richness of colour and fluidity of technique which is breathtaking. But by this time the Boys had progressed beyond their origins. Each had their own individual style which would lead some of them to success in the 20th Century.