Lachlan Goudie picks his top 10 most important Scottish artworks


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It took three years for artist and TV host Lachlan Goudie to compile The Story of Scottish Art. Here are his favorite pieces of work. Check it out and, at [email protected], tell us what you think.

Venus Westray/Wifey

The 5,000-year-old figurine was found on the Orkney Island of Westray in the Ties of Noltland.

This 41 mm tall sandstone figurine, which an archaeologist found on a beach during a 2009 excavation at Westray on the northwest coast of the Orkney archipelago, dates back to the Neolithic period. It was unceremoniously called “The Westray Wifey” by the locals and it is considered Scotland’s oldest figurative piece of art, which blows my mind. The Wifey has been called “Orkney Venus,” after its discovery, and two circular marks carved into her chest have been interpreted as breasts, drawing similarities to ancient Greece’s ancient fertility figures.

Church of St. Marnock, Easter at Fowlis, Fife

Crucifixion Pre-Reformation oak panel paintings.

Since 1180, there has been a church at Fowlis Easter, and St. Marnock’s looks nondescript today, like a gray stone barn. But one of only two remaining pre-Reformation crucifixion paintings in Scotland is the painting of the Crucifixion inside – and if you look closely at the painting, you can understand why. The scene’s violence is accompanied by an assault on the painting itself. There are holes from nails driven into the wood; some panels bear scars. There are other signs of harm in the church: statues of angels with broken jaws, saints decapitated.

Allan Ramsay

The Artist’s Infant Son, 1741.

I have been mistaken for a long time for the porcelain-like beauty of sterility portraits by Allan Ramsay. But this cool surface, in fact, is a mask that belies strong feelings of love and loss that are shaking beneath the surface. In no work is this more apparent than in his portrait of his dead son, a small work in oil on canvas that he painted after the death of his 14-month-old son. He later told a friend that “while he was thus occupied, [he]felt no more consternation than if the subject had been an indifferent one. All sorrow had disappeared.” This touched me profoundly as a father.

To Edwin Landseer

The Glen King, 1851

Edwin Landseer was English, but produced in a Scottish sense in his most famous novel, Monarch of the Glen. In the Scottish imagination, the depiction of a stag rising from the heather has never evoked a stronger evocation of Scotland; it ranks with bagpipes, tartan, and a shortbread mouthful. But few other paintings have evoked such contradictory emotions in the psyche of a country. Some see it today as an example of cultural colonialism, a myth imposed by an Englishman which obscures the authentic national identity of Scotland. The monarch is a canvas with a complex pedigree, but pictures like this helped make Scotland a blockbuster, beautifully painted and skillfully composed to both seduce and command the viewer.

James Guthrie James Guthrie

The Daughter of A Hind, 1883

No matter how many times I see James Guthrie’s A Hind’s Daughter, the image remains so immediate that it feels like I’m stumbling upon the scene for the first time. The girl looks up, catches my attention as much as Guthrie’s, and quietly watches as I leave behind her. It’s a snapshot without bombast or melodrama, a distillation of the ideals upheld by the Glasgow Boys group of painters. Guthrie carefully regulates the sound in this painting to mimic sunlight softly filtering through the Scottish clouds. Guthrie’s use of color is heavily influenced by the French artist Jules Bastien-Lepage, who was a guiding figure for all Glasgow Boys painters.

Arthur Melville Melville

At the Moulin Rouge Dancers, 1889.

A detail from Arthur Melville’s Dancers at the Moulin Rouge is featured on the cover of The Story of Scottish Art. And with good reason. Melville was not an abstract painter, but he was an artist who knew when to trust the unconscious gestures his hands made on the fly. On an intoxicating night at the Moulin Rouge in 1889, Melville simply let the paint flow from his brush. This resulted in a painting in which three overlapping pools of pigment spill into each other, curling this way and that. It’s maddeningly joyful.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The Mackintosh Building, the Glasgow School of Art, 1896-1909

My father was a lecturer at the Glasgow


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