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.
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