William Geddes and the Blairgowrie School of Painting

Perth Museum and Art Gallery (16 December 2006 – 5 May 2007) an exhibition entitled the Blairgowrie Boys. The following is taken from the accompanying notes from that exhibition, written by Maria Devaney, Principal Arts Officer.

“The east Perthshire town of Blairgowrie was the home of William Geddes, a self taught artist. He became the central figure of a small group of painters who gathered in the town. Together, we refer to them as ‘The Blairgowrie Boys’ their fame was largely contained to the locality. The growing reputation of Blairgowrie as a favourite place for artists, encouraged others to settle in the town. These included Jane Elizabeth Spindler, who was originally from Dundee.

William Geddes (1840-1884) was born in Blairgowrie and became well known as a painter of scenes from Scottish life and as a painter of fish. He was also highly regarded for his witty and popular writing. Among his achievements was a joint commission from Andrew Carnegie, the American steel magnate, for a painting commemorating Carnegie’s visit to Dunfermline. This can now be seen at the Carnegie Birthplace Museum. In 1864, he had met and married Margaret Ewan. they settled in Blairgowrie, where they had eleven children. They first lived at Riverside House in Rattray from about 1872 to 74, before moving to Gowanbrae Cottage in 1874, where William spent the rest of his life. It was there he converted outhouses into a studio. From the mid-1860s, William exhibited regularly at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. He was also a member of the Scottish Arts Club. William occasionally used watercolour but more often he painted in oils. He frequently used members of his family as models. William had a reputation for having a pleasant personality and for a being a generous and witty host. His circle of friends included artists and gallery owners as well as local families in Blairgowrie, chiefly the Grimonds of Oakbank. He is associated with a number of artists including David Farqhuarson, William Dickson, James Michael brown and Thomas Burnett. William died in Blairgowrie in 1884 at the age of 44 after a long illness. He is buried with his parents at the Hill Kirk.

Ewan Geddes (1866-1936) was born in Blairgowrie. Ewan trained in Edinburgh and had a studio address at 108 George Street. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Scottish Academy from 1891. After his father’s early death he returned to Blairgowrie to the family home of Gowanbrae, where he had the use of his father’s old studio. He brought many of his artist friends to the town including Thomas Bromley black lock and William Miller Frazer. Like his father, he would also use family members as models. Ewan worked mainly in watercolour and favoured landscape and rural scenes, often with snow. He produced many works inspired by the area of Muirton of Ardblair. Ewan died in Blairgowrie at the age of 70 and is buried in the family plot in the cemetery.

Robert Smith Geddes (1883-1951) sometimes modelled for his brother Ewan’s paintings, most notably ‘The poacher’ (now in a private collection). He studied at Edinburgh College of Art, but did not complete his course. Ewan Geddes regarded him as the more talented artist. He seemed to abandon painting and his works are now rarely seen. Robert emigrated to Canada and lived out his final years with his sister there.

Thomas Bromley Blacklock (1863-1903) was a close friend of Ewan Geddes. He was a painter in oils and watercolour. His subjects included landscapes, interiors, flowers, portraits and figures, but he was also an illustrator and an author. He was born in Kirkcudbright and trained in Edinburgh. His decorative works, often in the style of E A Horne; earned him a minor reputation.

James Michael Brown (1853-1947) was an Edinburgh portrait painter in oils and watercolour, but also painted landscapes, coastal and golfing scenes. He was the son of the Fife engraver Tom Brown. He was a keen golfer and founder member of the Mortonhall Golf Club in Edinburgh and it is for golfing scenes that he is best remembered. He was a regular visitor to Blairgowrie.

Thomas Stuart Burnett (1853-1888) was born in Edinburgh the son of a lithographic printer. He studied at the trustees Academy and the RSA Life School. A s a sculptor he worked mostly in bronze and marble. Among his best known pieces are small statues in the Scott memorial. He also sculpted a portrait of William Geddes.

William Dickson (fl. 1883-1898) was a landscape and still life painter in oils and was a friend and associate of William Geddes. He exhibited two works at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1898 and at Perth Fine Arts exhibition in 1883. His father George M Dickson was a housepainter in Blairgowrie, whose apprentices included his son along with William Geddes and David Farquharson.

Adam Burnett Fair-Weather (fl.1883-1896) lived at Bridgend, Blairgowrie. He exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, the Glasgow Institute and in Perth.

David Farquharson (1840-1907) was born in Blairgowrie and began as an apprentice decorator and moved to Edinburgh in 1872, He was largely self-taught, although for a time studied under William Geddes. He became a landscape painter in oils and watercolour, he first exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1868. His early pictures deal mostly with the border land between Perth and Forfar and in the Braemar and Glen Shee areas. He is buried at Little Dunkeld.

William Miller Frazer (1864-1961) was born in Scone and studied at the RTSA Life School (1883-1887). He became known for ‘Corot like’ landscapes of Scotland and was especially fond of the lowlands of Fife. He was a founder member of the SSA of which he was President 1908. Also President of the Scottish Arts Club 1926-27. Frazer spent most of his life in Edinburgh. He wrote an obituary for Ewan Geddes.

Robert Herdman (1829-1888) was born in Rattray, the son of the parish minister. He studied art in Edinburgh under Robert Scott Lauder and later gained a reputation as a painter of historical subjects and portraits. Much of his work is influenced by the rich detail and colour of Italian painting.

George Murray (1875-1933) was born in Blairgowrie, the son of W A M Murray, cabinet maker. He was a painter and designer specialising in decorative painting and mosaics. He also painted landscapes in Scotland, Italy and Spain, portraits and figure compositions in watercolour and oil. He trained at Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal College of Art.

Jane Elizabeth Spindler (c. 1856-1939) was a painter of landscape, rustic scenes and interiors in oil and watercolour. Her brother was the artist James Gustavus Spindler and they both came from a musical family in Dundee. Jane established a studio in Blairgowrie during the late 1880s. She exhibited with the Royal Scottish Academy from 1870 as well as the Royal Glasgow Institute and the Aberdeen Artists Association.”