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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bessie MacNicol (4)

E.A. Hornel, Bessie MacNicol, 1896,
oil on canvas. painted in Hornel's studio.
Japanese kakemono in the background.

Visited Kirkcudbright in 1896 where she was influenced by Hornel as seen in the portrait, which she painted of him in his studio.

This portrait was exhibited at the Glasgow Institute, 1897.

"Bessie writing to Hornel about the portrait:

'I had David Gauld up seeing your portrait. He said he wished I had painted it in greys and purples. Also, wanted me to take out the palette & to paint the coat a grey black. Of course that is quite another story - at least Gauld's way of telling the story.'
MacNicol's personality has been described as fun-loving, full of life and high spirits. In another letter to Hornel, she writes:

'John Keppie came up to see me the day after I returned from Kirkcudbright, & was inviting me to go for a cycle run with him. I have got a new kind of cycling skirt, which is divided, so far up, but is just like a walking skirt when I am standing. I put the Mater into fits when I was in the shop buying it, by dancing a hornpipe behind the woman's back. They are like wide Jack Tar 'bags'. I am getting on splendidly & am quite a scorcher. I have not gone more than 10 miles but can pass machines & people without running them down for certain.'

Though she died young, in less than 12 years Bessie exhibited in Scotland, London, Ghent, Munich, Dresden, Vienna, St Petersburg, Pittsburg, and St Louis. There's a self-portrait of Bessie MacNicol at Glasgow Museums and Galleries.

The most important woman artist in Glasgow at the turn of the last century, she was the eldest of twin girls born on 15th July 1869. She first attended the Glasgow School of Art at the age of 18 in 1887, and in 1896 acquired her own studio at 175 St Vincent Street. She married a gynaecologist turned painter and died on the 4th June 1904 at the age of 34. She was pregnant with her first child and her husband seems to have attended and signed the death certificate. He survived her by only a few years, marrying a young singer months before his own death. His wife remarried in November of the same year after selling the house and all Bessie and her husband's paintings. This may be one of the reasons why so little documentary evidence remains of Bessie's work and life. Apart from a few letters and photographs, there are no sketchbooks and no diaries. Her early death was considered a great loss to Scottish art, but typically for a woman artist she was almost forgotten decades later.

Information on Bessie from article by Ailsa Tanner in Glasgow Girls, edited by Jude Burkhauser." (c)

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