by Dr. Stephanie Meier-Kaftan
Scottish landscape painter John MacWhirter was born in 1839 in Slateford near Edingburgh, the fourth of six children. His father worked at the paper mill in Colinton, a suburb of Edinburgh that was the site of factories for textiles, snuff, and paper. At the age of 11, his father died.
His method of working is most notable for the fact that he made studies directly outside in nature and was inspired by the Scottish Highlands as well as his travels to Europe. He spent a great deal of time in the Highlands for his studies and also traveled regularly to continental Europe, including Germany, Austria, Italy and Norway, from the age of 16. His naturalistic landscape paintings are very detailed and not very melancholic.
Most of his paintings showed the viewer the fascinating landscape of the Highlands with blue lochs, Scottish fir trees and birch trees. Sometimes, however, inspired by his European travels, Italian lake views and alpine meadows were among them.
His enthusiasm for the Alps can be seen, among other things, in his painting "June in the Austrian Tyrol," which was exhibited in 1892. It is a 126 x 187.1 cm oil painting on canvas and is in the collection of the Tate Gallery.
The viewer finds himself in the middle of an alpine meadow landscape and looks into the Tyrolean Alps. While, according to the season, various plants are blooming on the meadow, the upper slopes of the mountains are still lightly covered with snow. To the left of the picture on the mountain slope, huts and farmsteads can be seen in the distance, to the right there is a wooden fence and behind it a village can be seen, from which above all the high white church tower with a black roof rises up.
A small path winds through the sea of flowers, in the midst of which a woman with a hat and basket is collecting plants. Various alpine meadow flowers can be found in the blooming meadow, including dandelions. Dominating are the white flowers, which could be from the alpine daisy, and the blue bell-like flowers, which could refer to the alpine bellflower.
While his preference was for the Scottish Highlands, John MacWhirter also manages in this alpine view to excite the viewer about the landscape and take him on a walk through a meadow of flowers. He could evoke in the viewer the feeling of wanting to pick up a wooden basket and collect alpine plants and herbs, just as the lady in the hat does.
John MacWhirter - June in the austrian Tyrol
Oil on canvas, ca. 1892, 126 x 187,1 cm, Tate, London
Photo © Tate