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Sir James Guthrie, 1859–1930

Street in Oban, Night

ca. 1893
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
16 x 12 inches (40.6 x 30.5 cm)

Signed in black paint, lower left: "JGuthrie."

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Isabel S. Kurtz in memory of her father, Charles M. Kurtz
Copyright Status:
Copyright Undetermined
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
brushstrokes | church | cityscape | cupola | evening | figures (illustrations) | night | road | sky | street | town | walking | windows | woman
Associated Places:
Argyll and Bute | Oban | Scotland | United Kingdom
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Sir James Guthrie became a leading figure in Scottish art in the late nineteenth century. Initially rejected by the conservative Glasgow Art Club for his expressive painting technique, he later became President of the Scottish Royal Academy (1902–19) and received a knighthood in 1903. An admirer of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Guthrie favored naturalism over sentimentality and was among the first artists in Scotland to paint en plein air. The loose, gestural brush marks and passages of light and dark in this painting evoke the shift from day to nighttime. Inspired by contemporary French painting, Guthrie focused on capturing the everyday reality of rural communities, here depicting a working street in the small coastal town of Oban in Scotland, where the advent of a railway in 1880 had led to increased industry and tourism.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2020

Sir James Guthrie studied law at the University of Glasgow but turned to painting after receiving encouragement from the artist James Drummond. Largely self-taught, his painting style changed markedly after a short trip to Paris in 1882, shifting abruptly from realist genre scenes to plein air works inspired by the naturalist paintings of Jules Bastien-Lepage. Back in Scotland, Guthrie became a leading member of the Glasgow Boys, a group of young Scottish artists who rebelled against the highly finished style of the Edinburgh art establishment. They were influenced by the outdoor painting techniques of Bastien-Lepage as well as the tonal harmonies of James McNeill Whistler. With its somber range of crepuscular tones, Guthrie’s representation of the Scottish resort town of Oban calls to mind Whistler’s Thames nocturnes of the 1870s, evoking a mood instead of depicting a specific place or event.

Gallery label for A Decade of Gifts and Acquisitions (Yale Center for British Art, 2017-06-01 - 2017-08-13)

Malcolm Cormack, Charles M. Kurtz and the Glasgow School, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1990, Unpaginated, Unnumbered, ND481 .G5 C42 1990 [ORBIS]

Fifth Avenue Galleries : Catalogue of Oil Paintings, Water Colors, and Drawings of the Late Charles M. Kurtz, Ph.D, February 24-25, 1910, Fifth Avenue Galleries, New York, p. 80, Lot 117, N5220 .K87 F5 1910 YCBA [ORBIS]

Florence N. Levy, Louisville Art League, Nov. 11-20, 1897, American Art Annual, vol. 1, The Macmillan Company, New York & London, 1899, p. 196, no. 73, Available via Hathi Trust Digital Library [ORBIS]

Florence N. Levy, Paintings Sold at Auction, 1909-1910, American Art Annual, vol. 8, New York, 1911, p. 367, no. 117, Available via Hathi Trust Digital Library [ORBIS]

Arleen Pancza-Graham, Charles Kurtz & the Glasgow School : An American Critical Response, Archives of the American Arts Journal, vol. 31, 1991, p. 17, Available online via JSTOR [ORBIS]

Arleen Pancza-Graham, Charles M. Kurtz (1855-1909) : Aspects and Issues of a Cosmopolitan Career, The City University of New York, New York, 2002, p. 261, fig. 41, Available online at ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global [ORBIS]

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