Scottish National Galleries The Mound Constable and McTaggart Review Thursday 6th April 2017



John Constable (1776-1837) and William McTaggart (1835-1910), each in their own unique way much loved as favourite artists in their home countries of England and Scotland, have major canvases displayed side by side at The National Gallery of Scotland at the Mound from 8th April 2017 to 25th March 2018.

From John Constable we have the impressively large (1.5 m high and nearly 2m wide) iconic painting of “Salisbury Cathedral from The Meadows”.  This much loved painting reflects not only the artist’s love for the area and the subject matter (painted several times), but his mastery of the media he was painting in and new and, at the time unconventional, approaches to his painting technique.  This work painted three years after the death of his beloved wife Maria is laden with personal meaning and the artist himself referred to it as the “Great Sailsbury.   When first exhibited in 1831 though, this work received much criticism for its painting techniques, particularly of the clouds, and remained unsold after the exhibition

This iconic landscape painting is currently touring with the support of several parties (more details on NGS website at and each gallery that the painting is exhibited in has been asked to exhibit a painting of their choice from their own collection.

“The Storm “ painted by William McTaggart in 1890 is the iconic picture chosen by National Galleries of Scotland to hang side by side by with “Salisbury Cathedral From The Meadows”. Often dubbed “The Father of Scottish Painting”, “The Storm” is considered by many to be his most iconic work, and this large work (there is an earlier and smaller version) is roughly the same size as the work by John Constable, making comparisons immediate.

Two of the most immediate comparisons of course have to be the brightness of the McTaggart work when viewed beside the far darker tones of the Constable work and the almost completely contrasting use of detail.  Whereas Constable’s work gets more detailed as you get closer to the painting itself, McTaggart in a far looser and at times almost abstract depiction of his subject matter is best viewed from a distance as the original storm would have been viewed.  William McTaggart understood clearly how the human eye searches for patterns to interpret and add its own details to any landscape.

Two iconic paintings side by side.  Probably one of the simplest displays at The National Galleries of Scotland at the moment, but also one of the most effective.  Pages could be (and have been) filled about the painting techniques and history behind these classic paintings, but nothing illustrates the different landscape environments and the different approaches to capturing the light and colour of each by two masters of the format than simply viewing them together.

Review by Tom King


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