PERTHSHIRE.- In the 1890s, members of the Glasgow School were internationally hailed as the most radical painters in Britain. They showed at the Salons and Secessions of Europe and exhibited extensively in North America. Their work was easily distinguished from other British painting by strong colour and vigorous handling, which adapted the systematic factura of Naturalism to the new chromatic discoveries derived from Impressionism. Symbolist tendencies also emerged in idyllic scenes of childhood reverie, inaugurated by Edward Arthur Walton's celebrated The Day Dream, 1885 (National Galleries of Scotland). This tour-de-force, along with John Lavery's The Tennis Party, 1885 and James Guthrie's In the Orchard, 1885-6, established the 'formation style' of the Glasgow artists best demonstrated in George Henry's Playmates, 1884 (Fig 1). By 1887, in local papers such Quiz and The Baillie, it was clear that a distinctive school had emerged whose painters could be grouped together in reviews and illustrated supplements. Walton, exhibiting at the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts and the Glasgow Art Club, in addition to supplying landscapes, was experimenting with studio-based portraiture and plein air figure studies. These were praised by later writers such as G. Baldwin Brown for their 'depth and variety of hues in shadowed foliage' (The Glasgow School of Painters, 1908, p. 45). It was however James Caw who, looking at profile studies such as The White Flower, (Kirkcaldy Art Gallery), summed up 'the shy beauty' of Walton's depictions of children that resonated with 'dextrous handling' (The Studio, XXVI, 1902, p. 167).
Around 1890, painting a child with an apple in the present work entitled Alice became a vehicle for the exploration of newly discovered Impressionist techniques. Walton had many opportunities to absorb these on trips to Paris or in exhibitions of Impressionist painting staged in Glasgow by the dealer, Alexander Reid. One important and largely unstudied aspect of the new Glasgow painting was the use of pastel. When, in 1888, Degas's Danseuse Verte (Thyssen Collection, Madrid) was shown at the New English Art Club, where Walton was exhibiting works simply entitled 'Portrait' and 'Landscape', his excitement was aroused. Seeing Degas's work, young artists south of the border, such as George Clausen, immediately started to experiment with the medium, building up vigorously hatched areas of colour. At the same time, Glasgow contemporaries, like Guthrie and Arthur Melville, also produced pastels. Such was its sudden popularity that the Grosvenor Gallery, where the Glasgow Boys later made their London debut, started to stage pastel exhibitions. An unlocated pastel entitled Jean showing a girl in profile, illustrated in The Scottish Art Review in February 1889, indicates that Walton was interested in the new medium as does the closely related Phyllis, a pastel that surfaced in Stockholm in 2007 (see F. MacSporran, Edward Arthur Walton, 1860-1922, Foulis Archive Press, n.d., p.44).
These demonstrate a freedom and confidence derived from Japanese art which, inevitably spilt over into painting particularly in the staccato brushwork used to convey the effect of dappled shade in the present work. Walton remained fascinated by the decorative possibilities of the plein air portrait into the early nineties, when he painted Bluette, (National Galleries of Scotland). However this canvas, with its straining effects contains little of the innocent delight so obvious in Alice. Probably executed at Cambuskenneth, near Stirling, where Walton had his studio between 1888 and 1894, Alice was painted when the artist was in close contact with other Glasgow Boys particularly William Kennedy who was also based at Stirling. It is likely to have been seen by slightly younger members of the group such as George Henry and Edward Atkinson Hornel both of whom painted girls in sunlit woodland or garden settings. Its range is however even greater when we consider the work of David Gauld, Bessie MacNicol and Robert Brough for whom the half-length plein air portrait became an insistent leitmotif. Interestingly the present work is to be sold together with a copy of the Chicago exhibition catalogue and an original letter dated 23 jan 1896 from Walton to J. M. Annis Esq. who bought the painting in which Walton discusses Alice at length.
However, for David Martin, the first chronicler of the Glasgow School, a work such as this exemplifies the contention that 'selection' and 'sympathy with nature' were the keys to Walton's art (The Glasgow School of Painting, 1897, 1976ed., p. 70). He declared that, "Walton's work has ever a fresh and delicious quality of atmosphere and light that shows how keen is his perception of those phases of nature he loves to paint. A quality pervading in his work is that of selection; never is he commonplace. Be his theme landscape or figure-subject, he conceives it in a decorative manner, and through it there is that dominant feature of the artist's mind in close sympathy with nature."