Sir James Lawton Wingate RSA

Summer Sunset

Sir James Lawton Wingate RSA

Summer Sunset

This early 20th-century impressionistic oil painting by Scottish artist Sir James Lawton Wingate RSA (1846-1924) depicts a summer evening with figures loading a haycart. Born in Glasgow, Wingate was venerated by his contemporaries and ultimately elected as the President of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA).

The natural world, with its infinite allure, has enchanted artists for centuries. Challenging to capture accurately, its ever-shifting moods have brought joy and exasperation in equal measure. John Ruskin (1819-1900), the punctilious Victorian art writer, proclaimed that “nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty” and “all great art is the expression of man's delight in God's work.” He advocated studying its nuances first-hand and it was this mantra that inspired Wingate’s impressionable mind.

Both John Ruskin and also the musings of the Pre-Raphaelites were influential in his early artistic ambitions. As such, his formative works exhibit an exacting, rather rigid, appearance while he sought to capture every swaying branch and craggy rock. His admiration for Ruskin was also probably the catalyst for his first overseas study trip - a sojourn to Italy in 1867 where he produced around 150 watercolours.

Upon his return, keen to develop his art further, Wingate enrolled at the RSA where he encountered various artists of note. Still a relatively young man, one can imagine him clutching his sketchbook among peers while discussing Italianate vistas and Claudian visions. 

However, fortunately perhaps, his esteemed colleagues were not as buoyed by his Italian studies and offered him advice that would change his fortunes immeasurably. In the autumn of 1873, Hugh Cameron RSA RSW (1835-1918) criticised Wingate’s style, stating “I feel the work to be wrong and art is not an affair of argument, it is an affair of feeling”. Cameron’s own works were looser and less regulated. Following this critique, Wingate immediately changed his approach: "I determined thenceforth to appeal directly to feeling as my guide in art, and only from that date can I see any progress". 

Emboldened by this new zest for freedom, his career flourished and it’s his looser, more feeling, works that continue to delight us today. In ‘A Summer’s Evening’ from 1888, which is held at the National Gallery of Scotland, an enriching sunset provides the backdrop to a lazy evening conversation. Silhouetted trees are described in dabs and gestures.

Indeed, twilight was his raison d'etre, as the golden hour diminishes into a restful haze of tinted umber. Here, in this lyrical work from around 1890, three fieldhands load a cart with hay, dragged from atop a stack. The figures are rendered with little more than a few marks, while the trees are mere suggestions.

From 1880 onwards, Wingate was a regular exhibitor at the RSA, becoming its President in 1919. A year later, he was knighted, the crowning glory for an impressive career. His works are held in numerous public collections including at the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture.

Signed in the lower right and held within a gilt frame.

Learn more about Sir James Lawton Wingate RSA in our directory.

Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 21” x 18½” / 54cm x 47cm
Year of creation: c. 1910
Provenance: Sotheby’s, London, 27 March 1984, lot 453 / Private collection, UK.
Condition: Assessed and approved by our conservator. Cleaned. Frame restored.
Artist’s auction maximum: £9,000 for ‘Unloading the catch’ (1885), Oil on canvas, Sotheby's, Wemyss Ware Scottish Silver And Jewels Scottish And Sporting Paintings Drawings And Watercolours, London, 1988 (lot 1041).
Our reference: BRV1885

Conservation & History

We care profoundly about our role as custodians and every piece in the collection has been assessed by our conservator. When required, we undertake professional restoration carefully using reversible techniques and adopt a light touch to retain the aged charm of each work. We also restore frames rather than replace them as many are original and selected by the artists themselves.

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