#FridayPainting: Bessie MacNicol “Two Sisters”

Tonight I am traveling virtually to Glasgow, Scotland, the port city on the River Clyde in Scotland’s western Lowlands. There is an artistic energy that vibrates in a city renowned for its Victorian and art nouveau architecture. History is steeped in every step I take. I hear the echo of shipbuilding that took place during the city’s 18th-20th centuries.

Glasgow is a cultural hub of activity, the home of the famed World Bagpipe competition, the Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and National Theatre of Scotland. My favourite go-to place is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where I look forward to meeting up with the Glasgow Girls.

Bessie MacNicol was a Glasgow Girl along with Margaret MacDonald, Frances MacDonald, Jessie M. King, Jessie Wylie Newbery, Ann Macbeth, and Norah Neilson Gray.

During the period of the Scottish enlightenment that occurred between 1885 and 1920, women actively pursued art careers, attracting international visibility. The Glasgow Society of Lady Artists founded in 1882, provided a place for women artists to meet as well as exhibit their artwork.

Bessie MacNicol’s “Two Sisters” carries an emotional depth and understanding of human connections. Her landscapes come alive with light, colour and texture. She was influenced by the impressionism of James McNeil Whistler and the plein air traditions of the Barbizon School.

During her short lifetime, Bessie MacNicol fulfilled her destiny of being an active participant in shifting the art world towards modernism.

Bessie MacNicol (1869 – 1904) Two Sisters 1899 Oil on Panel Ferens Art Gallery Hull Museums, Hull, England

MacNicol painted Two Sisters (Mother and Daughter) in 1899, the year in which she had a solo exhibition at Stephen Gooden’s Art Rooms in Glasgow and married the consultant gynaecologist Alexander Frew (1861-1907). They lived in the Hillhead area of Glasgow in a house which had formerly belonged to the artist D. Y. Cameron (1865-1945); MacNicol used his spacious studio. Two Sisters (Mother and Daughter) has an ambiguous title and is as intimate in subject as it is in size – it measures 28 x 37cm. A young girl is seen nestled into the lap of an older girl, or young woman, the former looking directly at the viewer, the latter gazing to our left. They are shown in a sun-dappled outside setting. Whilst the sitters’ facial features are defined, their bodies and indeed the rest of the work are realised with loosely descriptive, obvious brushstrokes, using a bright palette. It is an extraordinarily free technique for Scottish art of the period, with passages which are almost abstract, particularly at the right-hand side. Humber Museums Partnerships

14 Replies to “#FridayPainting: Bessie MacNicol “Two Sisters””

  1. Beautiful, thank you!
    I didn’t know about Bessie. This piece of art is fabulous. Her short life is a sad bit of history, but her art and place in women’s history shine bright.

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    1. I had never heard of Bessie MacNicol before, although I had heard about The Glasgow Girls. The Glasgow Society of Lady Artists that was founded in 1882 was, to me, another confirmation that art is the conduit and catalyst for change. Can you imagine the wonderful conversations held within these walls!!! I agree a place in women’s history shining bright.

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    1. I am uncertain as to why Bessie MacNicol had a tag line of “mother and daughter.” I can’t find any information. Check out this link for more of her artwork. It is tragic that she died so young in the later stages of pregnancy. Her husband did remarry but then died by suicide four years after her passing in 1904. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/two-sisters-mother-and-daughter-78735#. Thank you for your visits and your comments – always enjoy our conversations.

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  2. This is a different view from the picturesque view on the walk along the Vancouver seawall, but I have enjoyed it, equally! Scotland is as beautiful and, full of romance. It is good to hear of the women coming into their own. Thank you for your thoughts on the painting, and of the two beautiful ladies in the painting. It is noteworthy, that the artist was also involved, besides her busy life as a painter, but also in other useful, giving and helpful activities for the community.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comments, Frances! I apologize for my late response. Somehow, I lost your comment. I agree Scotland is beautiful and full of amazing stories.

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    1. I agree, Giuseppa Bessie MacNicol was able to bring out the joy of the friendship and love between two women. It is called “Two Sisters” but there is a tag line that says “Mother & Daughter.”

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    1. Oh Marina – isn’t it wonderful to go back in time and discover amazing women who forged a pathway of artistic innovation for others to follow. I read that that the women of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists were involved in women’s suffrage. I can only imagine the discussions that occurred – if only the walls could talk!

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  3. What a wonderful painting this is – those faces! I look forward so much to being able to visit the Kelvingrove Museum once again. Thank you for this ‘top-up’ in the meantime! X

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