William Stewart MacGeorge, RSA
Bark Peeling, 1889
Exhibited at The Royal Scottish Academy (1889) no.72.
Oil on canvas laid down on panel
32 in x 52 3/4 in - 81.3cm x 134 cm (46in x 62 in framed)
in original 19th century Aitken Dott & Son Edinburgh giltwood exhibition frame
Provenance: Private Collection, Ontario, Canada
Geddes, P. The Scottish Art Review volume I (1889) p.307.
Caw, Sir J.L.S. Scottish Painting, Past and Present (1908) p.406.
Morrison, J. Painting Labour in Scotland and Europe (2017) p.152-3.
MacGeorge's monumental-sized 'Bark Peeling' was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1889 as a companion piece to his 1888 work 'A Galloway Peat-moss' now at The National Gallery of Scotland. These two works represent his largest and most ambitious depictions of peasant life in the Galloway area. Contemporary reviews of 'Bark Peeling' note the "masterful grouping" of figures and the "masculinity" of the oak grove at sunrise. Bark-peeling was integral to the community around Kirkcudbright and throughout the Galloway region - entire families worked in the oak groves for months at a time peeling the bark to be used to soften the tannins in leather.
MacGeorge was born in Castle Douglas and trained at the Royal Institution (Edinburgh) with Hornel. He studied in Antwerp under Verlat, and exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy from 1881-1931, founding the Kirkcudbright School in the 1880s. In 'Bark Peeling', MacGeorge assimilates French Impressionism with the lessons of the Glasgow School in a unique nineteenth century Scots version of the early Impressionist movement.
According to Sir James Lewis Caw, MacGeorge mastered the use of "low luminous colour in which tint was subordinated to values, and light and shade....[he] retained his own feeling for Nature and incident, and adapted to his own uses, rather than imitated, the Hornel method and ideal of picture making....in his work one finds study of atmospheric effect and respect for the forms of Nature combined with delight in full-blooded colour and decorative ensemble. Still it is not in pictures in which a penchant for sun-glow falling upon and intensifying vivid local colour is most marked, but in those in which lower-toned and more reticent harmonies prevail, that he is most charming and satifying...in the richly tinted autumn woods, or foresters engaged at their craft among the trees." [Caw, Scottish Painting, Past and Present (1908) p.406].
John Morrison notes that "in the mid-1880s [MacGeorge] produced a series of rural labour in the manner of the Glasgow painters and of European colony painting. Paintings of peat gatherers, woodcutters and bark peelers all partake of the intimate engagement with rural life and labour....[it is] in an understated manner that community life is depicted in MacGeorge's paintings." [Morrison, Painting Labour in Scotland and Europe, 1850-1900 (2017) p152-3].
The companion piece A Galloway Peat Moss (no.NG2334 National Gallery of
Scotland) was exhibited at the RSA a year earlier. Of identical measurements,
these two naturalistic scenes of Scottish labourers are the most ambitious in both
scale and composition of all the works MacGeorge painted in the Galloway region.
The Edinburgh Art Review of the 1889 Royal Scottish Academy Exhibition reads:
W.S. MacGeorge 'Bark Peeling' no.72:
"Mr MacGeorge's oak forest may be noted for its effective grouping
[and] its general manliness." (p.307)
The Review published an ink sketch taken from a detail of Bark Peeling at the
Royal Scottish Academy Exhibition, reproduced here in the last image.