James Paterson was raised within a well-to-do Glasgow family with a deep appreciation for the arts, thus he was supported in his endeavour to leave the family manufacturing business to pursue watercolour lessons at the Glasgow School of Art. His education continued with five years spent in Paris, working in the studio of Jean-Paul Laurens and spending summers travelling across Europe and making visits back home. While in Scotland he travelled to locations along the east coast to paint with fellow artist and friend, William York Macgregor. When Paterson returned home from Paris in 1882, this friendship continued and he spent time working in MacGregor’s studio on Bath Street. This studio became a centre-point for artists in the city, where discussions took place and Macgregor organised life drawing classes; the two men’s friendship is now considered a keystone in the evolution of the wider Glasgow Boys movement.
Paterson once said that landscape painters should not ‘flirt with a new neighbour each remaining summer,’ and in many ways he followed his own guidance, returning repeatedly to Moniaive and its surrounding landscape. He first discovered the charming Dumfriesshire village in 1879 and moved there following his marriage in 1884. Summer Pastures is quintessential Paterson, restrained yet decorative. He accurately captures the landscape, but the composition remains beautifully considered and balanced; elegance conveyed in the simplicity of his handling. His other view of Moniaive, The Turn of the Stream sees Paterson at work in the medium he is better known for, watercolour. He skilfully uses this notoriously tricky medium to accentuate the calm aura of the gently meandering stream.
As is often the case with artists, Paterson was drawn to travel for inspiration. In the view of Cove, the sense of depth is beautifully expressed and we can see the strength of his compositional vision, with the trees framing the unfolding view to the water. The distinctive aspects of Paterson’s watercolour technique are apparent; the wet washes of colour, overlayered with blotting to create the effect of tree foliage, while flecks of pigment added in the foreground gesture to the texture of the grasses.
Paterson travelled further afield at different times of his life; during his artistic training in Paris and then later in his life, from 1900 and even more so after the death of his wife in 1910. By this point he was living in Edinburgh, so possibly felt compelled at times to escape the urban environment and his responsibilities at the Royal Scottish Academy. The continent also allowed for the exploration of a different palette, the heat adding a sandier tone to his range, the lighter washes of colour a step away from the jewelled blues and greens he uncovered across in Scotland.
Shades of blue and green recur throughout Paterson’s oeuvre, the juxtaposition of the two tones often adding depth to his depictions of Scotland’s landscape. In Buddha, Box, Bottles, we see them presented in a different way. It is a still-life composition executed in oil, yet the two colours continue to offer a richness as they do in his landscapes. The composition is relatively pared back but the effect is luxurious, with the jewel tones of the featured objects, both treasured and exotic and glistening with reflections, set against the simplicity of a monochromatic background, heightened with the textured line of detail along the tablecloth.
This selected group of paintings are a real treat to behold and reveal the truth of Paterson as an artist, a considered and elegant painter, at home and abroad.
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