James Taylor Brown was constantly inspired by the natural surroundings of his Scottish hometown of Stewarton. Here, throughout his life, he would capture the ever-changing seasons, memorialising them in energised brushstrokes and effusive colours.
Brown was painting at a time of great change in Scottish art. The fast-paced developments of industrialisation had opened up a new market of prosperous, middle-class buyers keen to purchase works to decorate their walls. In particular, Scottish clients desired landscape scenes celebrating their country’s natural beauty.
At this time, the paintings of one particular group of artists became popular. ‘The Glasgow Boys’ were a collective of artists who were keen to promote the newer styles of naturalism and impressionism in art. These relied on nature as the basis of their work, devoting their free brushstrokes and vivid colours to studying the various moods and emotions of their surroundings.
The Glasgow Boys contained Scottish artists such as James Guthrie (1859-1930), who wielded great power in turning taste towards these modern styles. They also promoted the growth of Glasgow as a city of culture. Historically Edinburgh had been the Scottish hub for the arts, however ‘The Glasgow Boys’ sought to take artistic dominance away from the hands of the established academies and spread far and wide a more modernist mission.
Brown’s hometown of Stewarton lies in the countryside surrounding Glasgow, and it is clear Brown took encouragement from the development of art in the city. He was also directly influenced by the Glasgow Boys receiving lessons from some of the group’s members. Brown’s quick, energetic dashes of paint, which translate, in vivid colours, the verdant nature of the Scottish countryside, certainly subscribe to the passion of the impressionists.
Streams slip past crooked trees with flaking bark. Skies conjure up the dark swell of the night or the piercing touch of sunlight as clouds ebb and flow like the tide.
Brown benefited, too, from the growing middle-class market, finding patrons across Scotland to purchase his works. His obituary also states that three English cities bought his works for their collections. Indeed, Brown was praised for conveying the beauty of Stewarton’s countryside to a wider audience more than anyone or ‘anything else'.
Brown’s legacy as a painter is celebrated both nationally and within his hometown. A number of his works are now held in prominent Scottish collections. In 2014, residents of Stewarton successfully erected a headstone for Brown’s grave after he was buried at an unmarked site. Adorning the marker is an embossed image of a palette and paints.
Born in Kilmarnock.
Moved to Stewarton.
Died in Stewarton. Buried in Stewarton Cemetery.