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William McTAGGART 1835 - 1910

ARSA 1859, RSA 1870, RSW 1878

Biography

The son of a crofter, McTaggart was born near Campbeltown and entered the Trustees Academy in 1852. His fellow students included MacWhirter, Chalmers, Cameron and Orchardson and like them he benefited from the teaching of John Ballantyne and the inspiration of Robert Scott Lauder. McTaggart visited the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition with Chalmers in 1857 and like many artists was struck by the Italian Primitives. His early work shows the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement and his oil The Thorn in the Foot was illustrated in Percy Bates’ The English Pre-Raphaelite Painters (1901).

However, The Past and Present, a canvas of 1860, was attacked by critics for its lack of finish, and by 1864 his oil Spring is handled in a broader, more atmospheric way. By the early 1870s McTaggart’s broad style had been established, but although some writers have pointed to the influence of French Impressionism, there is no evidence that McTaggart had any contact with them despite visits to Paris. After his marriage in 1863 he moved to Fairlie near Largs from where he could see the peaks of Arran. His working pattern had evolved into periods in Edinburgh working on large oils, followed by summers spent working in the open by the sea. He enjoyed the area around Lochranza and in 1868 worked on Loch Fyne with friend Colin Hunter. He discovered Carnoustie on the east coast near Dundee where in 1875 he witnessed and painted a great storm. By the late 1870s he was working in Carnoustie in the spring and early summer, and moving to Machrihanish on the West coast for August, September and October.

In 1889 he moved to a house in Broomieknowe, Midlothian where he painted landscapes as opposed to seascapes, returning to the sea during the summer. McTaggart’s oils developed a freedom of expression and technique, which was quite unique at that time. It is likely that his watercolour technique, using large brushes and rough paper and painting on the spot, influenced the development of the oils. Many of his oils have anecdotal or historical subjects as the theme such as The Coming of St. Columba or The Slave Ship, but their real interest is the study of the northern seas and skies.

Although some of McTaggart’s fresh and most powerful canvases depict storms, he also captured those exquisite days of calm and heat on the west coast when the clear waters turn opal and pink. McTaggart’s direct method of painting, unencumbered by academic theory, had a great influence on younger Scottish painters, to whom his advice was ‘the simpler and more direct the method, the finer the picture.’  He died in Broomieknowe, Midlothian.