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National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) and Glasgow City Council acquire In the Orchard, a major work by Sir James Guthrie

A masterpiece of Scottish art, which has been secured for the public in a unique partnership between the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) and Glasgow City Council, has gone on display in Edinburgh today.

Sir James Guthrie (1859-1930), In the Orchard, 1885-86. Purchased by the National Galleries of Scotland and Glasgow Museums with the assistance of NHMF and the Art Fund, 2012.
Sir James Guthrie (1859-1930), In the Orchard, 1885-86. Purchased by the National Galleries of Scotland and Glasgow Museums with the assistance of NHMF and the Art Fund, 2012.

In the Orchard, a major work by Sir James Guthrie (1859-1930), which is the first painting to be jointly owned by the two institutions, was acquired at auction in November 2012 for £636,500, with generous assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and the Art Fund.

This outstanding painting, which was one of the stars of Glasgow Museums’ hugely successful 2010 exhibition Pioneering Painters: The Glasgow Boys, will be on show at the Scottish National Gallery until the end of the year, before being shown at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It will be shared equally by the NGS and Glasgow Museums, and exhibited at the two institutions alternately.

Helping to launch the new display today were Michael Clarke, Director, Scottish National Gallery; Ellen McAdam, Head of Museums and Collections, Glasgow Life; and Sarah Philp, Head of Programmes, the Art Fund.

Commenting, Michael Clarke said: ‘The NGS has made a number of important acquisitions with sister institutions over the last 20 years, but this collaboration with Glasgow is unprecedented, and wholly appropriate given the significance of this iconic painting to the story of Scottish art. Since 1999 we have been fortunate in securing a number of key paintings by the Glasgow Boys, and acquiring In the Orchard with Glasgow Museums will enhance our displays of their work still further, complementing the great collection held in Glasgow.’

Councillor Archie Graham, the Chair of Glasgow Life and Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council, said: ‘This work was one of the star attractions at our record-breaking Glasgow Boys exhibition and we’re delighted that it has been secured for both city and nation through this unique partnership. Kelvingrove is home to one of the finest collections of Glasgow Boys works and we look forward to this outstanding Guthrie’s return in due course.

Born in Greenock, James Guthrie was a leading member of the Glasgow Boys, a loose-knit group of young, radical painters who began working together in the early 1880s. The members of the group, which included E A Walton, George Henry and John Lavery, shared broad artistic ideals of naturalism and a desire to challenge the perceived supremacy of the art establishment in Edinburgh.

In the Orchard was painted in the mid-1880s, a time of renewed creativity and intensive self-reinvention for Guthrie. Out of a crisis, when he almost abandoned a career in art, he emerged with one of the most complex and experimental paintings to have been made by any of the ‘Boys’.

Guthrie started work on In the Orchard in 1885, at the Berwickshire village of Cockburnspath, where he had been working in the open air with Walton. The painting, which shows two children gathering apples, was Guthrie’s most challenging figure composition and took almost two years to complete.

Subverting convention, Guthrie used a very large canvas (measuring 152.5 x 178 cm), a format normally reserved for grand history painting and highly unusual for such simple, rural subject matter. Moving away from the naturalism of his early masterpiece A Hind’s Daughter (which was painted in 1883, and is also in the Scottish National Gallery’s collection), Guthrie was developing a fascination with decorative pattern-making through deftly distributed touches of vibrant colour.

Following its unveiling in Glasgow in 1887, alongside Lavery’s Tennis Party (Aberdeen Art Gallery) and Walton’s A Day Dream (Scottish National Gallery), In the Orchard enjoyed early international fame. The painting was shown at the Paris Salon of 1889 before being included in a group of Glasgow Boys works selected for the International Exhibition in Munich in 1890, which upstaged submissions by many of the European avant-garde. Following this sensational European debut for the Glasgow Boys, In the Orchard returned to Germany for a Berlin exhibition of 1893.

Recognised as ‘one of the most important works by Glasgow artists’ on its unveiling, In the Orchard proved to be a seminal work in the development of painting in Scotland. The acquisition by Glasgow Museums and the NGS is a fitting recognition of its special place in the history of Scottish art.