PERTHSHIRE.- Port-an-Righ, Welcome to the Herring Boats was painted at Carradale, where McTagaggart spent the summers of 1883 and 1885. Much of his work at Carradale dealt with the lives of the herring fishermen. James Caw the artist biographer describes the present work ' In Port-an-Righ, the glamour of a sunny morning made brighter and gayer by the glad excitement of women and children who wait for the return of the fleet in the bay ringed round with rocks and sand towards which the still far-off boats are making.' (James Caw, William McTaggart, Glasgow 1917, p.93) Caw considers these works amongst his most beautiful paintings and 'none are more beautiful, however, or more characteristic of place and painter than those in which the herring-fleet is seen homeward bound in the freshness of the dawning'. (Ibid., Caw,p.91) Interestingly, McTaggart appears to have given this painting two different titles and it is also known in the literature as Good Luck!-The Fishing Boats going out. This painting was executed when the artist was at the height of his powers and this composition has four key areas, the mother and child in the foreground waving to the fleet, the group of children on the sand bank, the curved bay of sand to the right and in the background the herring fleet returning home. We know that McTaggart painted plein-air and there is never a suggestion in this mature work that it is other than a picture completed on the spot, except in his supersensitive method of dating. It has no taint of the studio. Nature's fulness and freedom of symphonic beauty are expressed with rare understanding and there is a convincing certainty in the quality of the light and the way in which it is affected by different atmospheric conditions and the objects from which it is reflected.
William Mctaggart was a a native of Kintyre and was familiar with the life of fishermen, their boats and gear and after the 1860s he increasingly turned his attention to their work and environment and also painted children from fishing communities, sometimes at play on seashore. His work during this period broke away from the Pre-Raphaelite ideals and influences and it took on an increasing realism. Landscapes and seascapes ceased to be backdrops for sentiment, moral lesson and narrative. Instead they were perceived by the artist as the natural environment of which humans are an integral part and upon which they depend for their existence. Port-an- Righ is a pivotal painting in that it adapts all aspects of his favourite subjects, children and fishermen with his new realist style at its best.(see fig 1.) In the 1870s McTaggart developed an increasingly fluid and painterly style and it during this period that Scotland's first impressionist was born. It has been suggested that this development may have been reinforced by exposure to paintings by James Abbot McNeill Whistler. McTaggart would have had several opportunities of examining works by Whistler in the course of his visits to London during this period, in which there were exhibitions of Whistler's paintings in the city. James Caw, quotes McTaggart as saying 'I remember when his first pictures (Whistler) began to appear. They struck me as very beautiful. They were beautiful colour, but they were also something new.' (James Caw, William McTaggart, Glasgow 1917, p.206). It has been suggested by scholars that only a few of McTaggart's paintings would have been directly influenced by Whistler. However, McTaggart did absorb a new vision of landscape painting realising that a painting in oil as Lindsay Errington suggests 'is not simply a visual copy of nature but is an organism in its own right, and as such, unity and cohesiveness as well as beauty must be provided by the action of the brush'. (Lindsay Errington, William McTaggart 1835-1910, 1989, p. 61) This may be true, but what seems to have impressed McTaggart was Whistler's independence and integrity as an artist, rather than specific techniques.
Mctaggart painted at Carradale a fishing village in the Kilbrannan sound between Tarbert and Campbletown, and 'the very spirit of this delightful place passed into his pictures' (ibid., Caw, p.88) Ten years earlier McTaggart had considered painting at Carradale, but for one reason or another he never managed to make the journey. He would have known the village by sight, as he would have passed it on the steamer to and from Campbletown. Caw describes Carradale, thus 'with its bold and delightfully diversified shoes, backed by heather hills; its old stone quay tucked into the eastern corner, under the rocky hill which shelters it from charging waters; and its many fishing boats at anchor or under sail; is a most attractive spot. He so made it his own that even such a fine and original artist as Wingate was fain to confess that he found it difficult to see Carradale except as McTaggart had painted it' (Ibid., Caw, p. 87-88) Herring fishing was to provide the subject matter for so many of McTaggart's paintings during the 1880s, Fishing in a ground swell, Carradale painted in 1883-86 is a good portrait of a skiff and shows the young age children would start fishing. (see fig.2) On the west coast there were two methods of herring fishing, by the drift net trailed behind a single boat and the ring net trawled by a pair of boats. The original skiffs were open boats and rowed by four oarsmen and had a lugsail and occasionally a jib, McTaggart was knowledgeable about the boats and his depiction of them in his paintings show this. In 1909 Alexander Errington writes of McTaggart for his love of nature and his brilliance in capturing it on canvas 'an intense and passionate love of nature is the dominant characteristic of the Celtic temperament. To the Anglo-Saxon certain aspects of nature inspire dread or fear. In the old Celtic literature there is no sense of hostility between man and nature in her wildest or gloomiest moods; the Celt gloried in the great expanses of earth and sea and sky, was sensitive to every passing phase, easily stirred to emotional activity and responded alike to the influences of storm and sunshine. He loved Nature for herself, thinking not of what she might produce for him in the way of utility. He delighted in the contemplation of the beautiful, and rose to the glories of the sublime. It is this pure innate love of nature that is the inspiring source of the work of Mr. McTaggart. It is found in his early pictures, but becomes more and more evident with the passing of the years until latterly humanity takes its place not as something superior to but part of the nature he seeks to paint. His career has been a consistent artistic progression with no looking-backward or divergence into wayward paths. It has been a progression from grave to gay, from a limited field to a wide horizon, from the definite and the minute to the freedom of mastery over the means of expression, until in these latter days there is no British landscape painter who has a more complete power of presenting nature in her richest and most glorious effulgence of brilliant sunlight than is possessed by Mr. McTaggart.' (The Studio, Volume 47, p.83)
McTaggart painted a number of his most important compositions in Carradale during this period, amongst them his first version of The Storm in 1883, which he later worked up into a larger painting in 1890, Wind and rain at Carradale ,1883, Fishing in a ground swell Carradale,1883-86, Going to the fishing Carradale, 1885 and the present work. The outstanding feature of this important work by McTaggart's is his power of expressing light, colour and movement and he excels here in the rendering of the sunshine of the full day in wide, open-air.