The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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James Guthrie, 1859-1930

Nationality: Scottish
Date of Birth: 1859.06.10
Place of Birth: Greenock
Date of Death: 1930.09.30
Place of Death: Rowmore, Gareloch


James Guthrie was a Scottish landscape and portrait painter. He was the youngest child of the Rev. John Guthrie, D.D., Evangelical minister of the Evangelical Union church, by his wife, Ann, daughter of Thomas Orr. He married Helen Newton Whitelaw (d. 1912) in 1897 and they had one son.


Guthrie studied law at Glasgow University but left without a degree to pursue a career in art in 1877. He moved to London in 1879, working with other Scots like John Pettie. From 1879 he painted with other Scottish artists during the summer at rural locations, including Brig O'Turk and Cockburnspath. His dramatic social realist painting, A Funeral Service in the Highlands (1881-2, Glasgow Museums and Art Gallery) made a great impact at the Royal Academy in 1882. His work was also influenced by Bastien-Lepage after a trip to Paris in 1882.

By 1883 he was a central figure of the group known as 'The Glasgow Boys', which included Joseph Crawhall, George Henry and E. A. Walton. He was elected as an artist member of Glasgow Art Club on 1 November 1880, elected Vice president in 1886 and President in 1896-1897, and an Honorary Member on 25 April 1904. The Glasgow artists were greatly influenced by JW's work and together they successfully petitioned Glasgow Corporation to buy Arrangement in Black, No. 2: Portrait of Mrs Louis Huth (YMSM 125), in 1891 (see #01870).

In 1885 Guthrie became a portrait painter, attempting to capture the character of his sitters rather than displaying a superficial technical virtuosity. At this time he also began working in pastels, at which he became greatly accomplished.

Guthrie visited the Whistlers on a second trip to Paris in 1889. In 1898 he was part of the committee which grew into the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, of which JW became President. Guthrie presided over the first Round Table Council dinner at the Café Royal in 1899, held after 2nd Exhibition, Pictures, Drawings, Prints and Sculptures, International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, London, 1899. In his speech he expressed the pleasure the Council had in JW's co-operation and their admiration of his work.

At this time he had studios in both London and Glasgow but moved to Edinburgh in 1902, when he was elected to the Presidency of the Royal Scottish Academy. The same year, Guthrie proposed that JW should be made an Honorary RSA (see #01873, #01875). Guthrie was knighted in 1903, the same year that he was one of JW's pallbearers.

He exhibited at Glasgow Art Club; Royal Scottish Academy; New English Art Club; Royal Society of Watercolours. He was made an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1888, RSA 1892, and was President of the RSA 1902-1919. He also exhibited at HRA; RSW and the New English Art Club.


Guthrie, James J., 'By the Way,' Books and Bookplates, IV, 1903-04, pp. 141-46; Billcliffe, Roger, The Glasgow Boys: the Glasgow school of painting 1875-1895, London, 1985; DVA, DNB.