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'Springtime in Eskdale', 1935, by James McIntosh Patrick (1907-1998)


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About the artwork

"Springtime in Eskdale" is an extremely detailed landscape painting by the Scottish artist James McIntosh Patrick. It depicts "The Crooks" in Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, birthplace of the famous engineer Thomas Telford (1757-1834). Patrick painted it in 1934 to mark the centenary of his death.

The painting shows people visiting a cottage, a farmer ploughing a field and a river in the middle ground. Light spreads evenly throughout the scene, except for a long shadow in the foreground, suggesting that the artist looked down on the landscape from on high.

Patrick loved to paint out of doors, believing that his landscapes could encourage people to appreciate nature: "I don't suppose there is much sentimentality about my paintings, but I have a deep feeling that Nature is immensely dignified when you are out of doors. I am struck by the dignity of everything."

James McIntosh Patrick, born in Dundee, Scotland, showed an early talent for drawing and painting. By the age of fourteen he had proficient etching skills, and was often found in his father's architectural office drawing and colouring perspectives of the latest architectural projects.

He greatly admired the work of the Glasgow School of painters, such as E.A. Hornel (his "Summer" is on display in Room 9) and G. Henry, and joined the Glasgow School of Art as a second year student.

Patrick developed a close friendship with his teacher Maurice Grieffenhagen (his "An Idyll" is on display in Room 5) and the two of them worked together on a series of landscape views of the South of France, where they spent three months of a summer holiday in 1926.

Patrick bought a house in Dundee, overlooking the Tay, just before the Second World War and lived there for the rest of his life. He became well established early on in his career and had a remarkable record of exhibitions, going as far back as 1926. Later, however, he was neglected by the art world.

Patrick believed that his work was concerned with real life and the world around us and that most of the work of his contemporaries revolved around art issues. He remained a popular teacher until his eighties, only giving up painting in the last few years of his life when his eyesight was failing.

Patrick discovered the joys of painting outdoors during the Second World War while serving in the camouflage units in North Africa and Italy. For the next forty years Patrick was a common sight in the fields, lanes and hedgerows around Dundee in Scotland, working at his canvasses.

Patrick revealed his fascination with the open-air technique: "As I got to know the countryside better and better, I came to realise that rhythmic ideas are inside you and so you go around looking for landscapes where the countryside fits a preconceived idea that you have inside you and which you recognise when you see it.

"In other words, a twisted bit of wood, a wall or a gate, immediately causes you to say; ah, that's the bit I am looking for... It is much easier to make up a picture than to paint nature as it appears before us…"

Later on in his life he turned to watercolours and worked on a large scale. Such was the power of his watercolours, they were often mistaken for oils.

The Painting

"Springtime in Eskdale" depicts The Crooks in Eskdalemuir, a typical Dumfriesshire scene. It was the early home of Thomas Telford (1757-1834), Britain's most celebrated civil engineer. Patrick began it in the spring of 1934 to mark Telford's centenary, but only completed it by the end of the year.

The strong design of "Springtime in Eskdale", with the graduation of planes from the foreground to the background and the variety of lines and divisions in the picture, suggests the influence of the famous Scottish designer Charles Rennie MackIntosh (1868-1928). Such a strong design element is also a reference to the work of Thomas Telford and the art of appropriating nature for the benefit of people. The farm, the stone wall and the ploughed fields all point to a man-made rural environment rather than divine creation.

The theme of the seasons was suggested to Patrick by print publisher Harold Dickins after the success of Patrick's "Winter in Angus" in the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1935. The two remaining season paintings by Patrick are "Autumn, Kinnorby" (Dundee Arts and Heritage Gallery) and "Midsummer in East Fife" (Aberdeen Art Galleries and Museums [opens new window]), both views of areas close to Dundee.

In "Springtime in Eskdale" Patrick used a high viewpoint and the pattern of the twisted path to lead the viewers' eye into the depth of his composition. It was a technique that he admired in the work of Van Gogh and tried to assimilate into his own. This method of spatial organisation became the hallmark of his work and was intended to make the viewer feel part of the landscape.

One of the most distinct features of the painting is the trees, which Patrick considered one of nature's greatest gifts because of the way they defy gravity and hold a mass of branch and leaf aloft. He never attempted to draw a tree from memory, preferring to capture the rhythm of its structure from direct observation. Patrick believed that by painting trees so vividly he could persuade people to appreciate them more.

Despite the unusual clarity of the painting, colour and light in "Springtime in Eskdale" are particularly illusionistic. Patrick created his own vision of the landscape by drawing from what he saw and combining it with what he imagined and remembered.

Reproductions of the painting:

James McIntosh Patrick entered into a commercial relationship with Harold C Dickins, a Fine Art Publisher of Pulteney Street, London, in around 1927, when Dickens offered him a contract to publish some of his etchings. This helped to establish the young artist’s reputation. Dickins came to act as an agent for Patrick, and was responsible for introducing his work to the Fine Art Society in London, through which his work was then sold. This arrangement held until 1946, when Dickins stood down and the Fine Art Society became his main dealer.

In 1934-5 Patrick painted ‘Winter in Angus’, which was bought in 1935 by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest for the Tate. Dickins suggested to Patrick that he follow the winter picture by painting the rest of the seasons, since the publisher aspired to issue the paintings commercially as collotype reproductions (a collotype is photo-mechanical printing process). It was Dickins himself who suggested ‘Springtime in Eskdale’, now in the Walker Art Gallery, as the next subject in this series. The final two paintings in the series were ‘Autumn, Kinnordy’ (1936, Dundee Art Galley) and ‘Midsummer in East Fife’ (1936, Aberdeen Art Gallery).

The Walker’s file for the painting ‘Springtime in Eskdale’ contains an undated four-page brochure that advertises the series as follows:

PUBLISHER’S ANNOUNCEMENT / The Four Seasons / a series of four landscapes in colour / by / J. McIntosh PATRICK / 250 Artist’s Proofs, 4 Guineas each / Prints, 6 Guineas the Set

On the inner double-page spread there are black and white illustrations of ‘Winter in Angus’ and ‘Springtime in Eskdale’, together with the print sizes – 21 ¾ x 16 3/8 [inches] and 21 ¾ x 16 3/8 [inches] respectively; plus information about the content of the individual pictures.

The brochure can presumably be dated to around 1935 to early 1936, since it also says that the subjects ‘Summer’ and ‘Autumn’ will be announced later in the year. The brochure is printed on the front with HC Dickens’ details, but the Fine Art Society’s details have subsequently been glued over these.

After the collotype had been published, the Walker subsequently purchased the original painting ‘Springtime in Eskdale’ from the artist at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition (held at the Walker), through the Fine Art Society, in 1938.

Extracts in the Gallery’s file from a January 1939 letter from Dickins in connection with ‘The Four Seasons’ collotypes states that ‘The Autumn subject in completion of the set has not yet been done.’ Dickins also states: ‘The permission to reproduce these subjects was given for the purpose of this publication and such blocks as may be needed to illustrate catalogues and advertisement of the publication.’

According to 1950s correspondence in the Gallery’s file, the Walker appears to have sold some of Dickins’ earlier prints after it purchased the picture.

Gallery records also state that permission was given to the Soho Publishing Company for a postcard in a series called Modern Masters, but no further information or date is given.

In 1967, a further reproduction was authorised of an art print for Prints for Pleasure Ltd., of Russell Street, London. No further information about this print is given.