Terris RSW, John (1865-1914)

Terris RSW, John (1865-1914)

John Terris was a successful Scottish landscape artist, whose luminous, emphatic watercolours were evocative of the popular ‘Glasgow School’ movement.

Born in Glasgow, Terris’ arts education began when his family moved to Birmingham in his teenage years. He undertook studies at the Birmingham School of Art and began to exhibit his work at the same time.

Once his studies were completed, Terris moved back over the border, settling once more in Glasgow. Here, he began to participate in the rapidly growing arts scene within the city. Until the late 19th century, Glasgow had been overshadowed by Edinburgh as the hub of Scottish art. By Terris’ time, however, booming industrialisation cultivated an audience of wealthy patrons keen to back a Glaswegian art scene.

There was also a burgeoning bout of artistic inspiration and innovation growing within the city to which Terris would contribute. The ‘Glasgow School’ was filled with wide-ranging artists and artisans who took a modern approach to their craft.

In terms of landscape painting, artists were keen to discard the Scottish tradition of dramatic, romanticised views of sweeping highlands. Instead, they took inspiration from the 17th-century Dutch masters and the French Barbizon school of earlier that century to focus on more naturalistic, everyday images. These they infused with vivid colour and vigorous brushstrokes.

Terris’ works are fascinating examples of this spirited approach. His scenes of the Scottish countryside were much praised by critics for their ‘effective colouring.’

Terris utilises ‘bold’ contrasts of colour, especially in his sunset scenes, which he was particularly fond of depicting. Shadows span across expanses of water as the setting sun tinges them an ochre and umber, these two contrasts fighting for dominance, adding curiosity and drama.

These are greatly added to by his use of broad-stroke brushes, which build up layers of paint and add depth and further luminosity to his works. Terris is able to invoke the ephemeral nature of the sky through the building up of colour.

His works were also highly praised for their ‘freedom of handling’ and seeming spontaneity. These were very much in the naturalistic spirit coveted by the growing ‘Glasgow School’ of landscape painters. When looking at Terris’ works, one gets the impression of a moment in time.

Yet this was also coupled with a precise ‘pictorial composition’ and ‘excellent drawing.’ The everyday scenes of buildings and boats resting along the banks of the River Clyde are executed with a canny understanding of depth and dimension.

Appreciating Terris’ works, one marvels at his ability to control his watercolour medium to produce nature’s spontaneity within scenes of compositional harmony.
Terris’ contribution to the Glasgow art scene and the wider growth of Scottish art was recognised in his time. At the young age of 26 he became a member of the Royal Watercolour Society of Scotland, recognised for his innovative efforts.
He also began to exhibit extensively. In Scotland, his works were seen at the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts. In England, he exhibited on a number of occasions at the Royal Academy in London. Further afield, his works often represented Britain’s artistic output at the Venice Biennale exhibition.

Tragically, Terris would die suddenly and unexpectedly in 1914, at the age of 49. The art world lamented the loss of such a talented artist, ‘especially in Glasgow,’ where Terris’ work had been so influential. Nonetheless, John Terris’ works remain examples of both his individual talent and his contribution to the wider developments in Scottish art during his life.


Born in Glasgow, Scotland.

c. 1880

Moved to Birmingham, Britain.

c. 1885

Moved to Glasgow, Scotland.


Exhibited at the Royal Academy.


Elected a member of the Royal Watercolour Society of Scotland.


Exhibited at the Royal Academy.


Exhibited at the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.


Exhibited at the Scottish Artists’ Exhibition, Continental Gallery, London, Britain.


Exhibited at the Royal Academy. Exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy.


Exhibited frequently at the Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy.


Exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts. Died in Netherby, Bridge of Allan, Scotland.

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