Contrasting British Led Art Movements

Luke Sparkes
16 Jan 2020

At Smith and Partner we believe that knowledge is key. A solid foundation in art helps us make savvy investments for our customers as well as allowing us to contextualise the art we appreciate for personal pleasure. We thought we’d pass this on so here we present the first in a series of posts designed to clue you up about aspects of art in an easy, digestible read. First up is the lowdown on two very contrasting but important British led art movements. The Glasgow style and Stuckism are from completely different British art eras but have one thing in common- a desire to reject the current artistic status quo of their times and carve a progressive, new approach. Read on to find out about the origins of the Glasgow style and Stuckism movements, key artists and principle works of the era.

The Glasgow School

What is the Glasgow School?

The Glasgow School is a term given to a group of highly influential artists and designers coming together in Glasgow in the 1870s but flourishing from the mid 1890’s to around 1910. This influential circle were a key part of the art nouveau movement and carved out a distinctive “Glasgow” style. Although local to the city of Glasgow and the progressive Glasgow School of Art it had an extensive, far-reaching impact on the art world and is a key British art movement.  

Who formed the Glasgow School and who were the key artists of the movement?

Predominant founders of this creative alliance were a group known as “The Four” or sometimes referred to as “Spook School”. These artists included celebrated architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and his spouse, the painter and glass artist Margaret Macdonald (1964-1933).  “The Four” also included Margaret’s sister Frances Macdonald (1873-1921) and her husband Herbert Macnair (1868-1955). They were united in a mutual distaste for the conservative, academic art coming out of Edinburgh and sought to innovate against this. “The Four” produced innovative graphic imagery and decorative art designs that helped define the “Glasgow” style.  Other groups of artists quickly stemmed from the Glasgow School, namely the “Glasgow Boys” and “Glasgow Girls”. Initial leading figures from the “Glasgow Boys” were James Paterson (1854–1932) and William York Macgregor (1855-1923), paving the way for a second wave of artists including  Joseph Crawhall (1861–1913), Thomas Millie Dow (1848-1919), and Sir James Guthrie (1859–1930). Latter artists included in the Glasgow boys collective included  David Gauld (1865–1936), William Kennedy (1859–1918), John Lavery (1856–1941), Harrington Mann (1864-1937). There were no fewer than 75 artists associated with the movement, all seeking to convey the beauty in the natural world.

What are the characteristics of the Glasgow style?

The Glasgow style can be seen to have several key influences which contributes to its own unique style. The movement undoubtedly shares the decorative style characteristics of the Celtic revival and Arts and Crafts movement. The mediums most commonly employed in the Glasgow style were metal, wood, glass, ceramic, illustrations and textiles. Key forms were stylised icons based on nature, the use of floral motifs like the iconic Glasgow cabbage rose. Other flowers such as tulips featured heavily, as do pendant flowers, seed shapes and bulbs. Other key aspects of nature were celebrated through the works, such as insects like dragonflies and butterflies as well as birds in flight and owls. The resulting style became a defining aspect of Art Nouveau and was celebrated throughout Europe.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s rose and teardrop textile design, 1915-28.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s rose and teardrop textile design, 1915-28. Photograph: © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.


The work of the “Glasgow Boys” in particular drew heavily from impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and the realism of Dutch and French art, especially the Naturalist paintings of Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848 – 1884). The tonal painting of the American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) also resonated heavily.

These artists sought to depict rural scenes from in and around Glasgow, seeking to convey a passion for nature and the world around them.  Female figures were also often depicted, using real people in real places to obtain a feeling of authenticity. Favoured colours tended to be tones of pink, purples and greens in muted shades, while occasional black and white contrasts were sometimes employed.

The Glasgow School art movement example 1

Bluette by Edward Arthur Walton (1891)

The Glasgow School art movement example 2

A River Landscape by Robert Macaulay Stephenson (1890)

The Glasgow School art movement example 4

To Pastures New by Sir James Guthrie (1833)


What is Stuckism?

In complete contrast to the first movement, here we take a look at the controversial, pioneering British art movement that is Stuckism. Stuckism refers to a confrontational movement formed in 1999 borne out of a desire to return art back to a search of truth and authenticity. Flying in the face of post-modernism, the founders of Stuckism issued a manifesto that highlighted its aims to return to the production of art with a spiritual foundation, regardless of technique, style or medium. Initially forming in Britain at the turn of the century, the movement has now expanded to 236 groups in 52 countries worldwide.

Who formed Stuckism and who are the key artists of the movement?

Artists Billy Childish (1959-) and Charles Thomson (1953-) founded the Stuckist movement, which they claimed was in response to the “spiritually bankrupt” post-modernism era. Childish and Thomson sought to revive the pictorial aspects of Modernism and return to paintings as a way of self-expression. Thomson’s Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision (2000) is considered a signature piece of the movement, satirising artist Tracey Emin’s work and the Turner Prize deemed “balderdash” in a published Stuckism manifesto. There are 13 British artists considered the original members of the Stuckism movement, which has since seen rapid expansion into other countries such as Australia and the United States.

Stuckism movement example 1

Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision (2000)


What are the characteristics of the Stuckism style?

As Stuckism by its very nature relies on autonomy and the individualised expression of each artist, it is impossible to determine a definitive artistic style. The movement is less concerned with the rigidity of styling and technique and seeks to garner “a new spirituality in art” seeking truth in its work. However, all artists connected with the movement are unashamedly unrestrained in their approach and show invention. The bold, explicit images of Joe Machine (1973-) often on the themes of sex and violence are designed to confront the viewer, while the art of Bill Lewis (1953-) employs the use of symbols in his work to pose meanings and give way to individual interpretation. Many artists of the movement feature people in everyday situations, injecting an element of obscurity to a common scenario. Philip Absolon’s (1963-) Job Club (1999) took inspiration from real people at a government unemployment scheme, depicting them as skeletons in reference to the length they had been there.  Similarly Ella Guru’s The Queen’s Speech depicts her husband dressed in a wig and skirt sat on an armchair with a Christmas tree behind him.

Stuckism movement example 3

My Grandfather Will Fight You – Joe Machine (2001)

Stuckism movement example 2

Job Club (1999) by Philip Absolon


Stuckism movement example 4

The Queen’s Speech by Ella Guru (2004)

All artists representative of the Stuckist movement feel passionately about their work reflecting meaning back to both the viewer and themselves. Pioneers of the movement believe that art should address all aspects of the self- good and bad, attractive and grotesque in search of truth and authenticity.


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