"I think that it is one of the most individual and beautiful [towns] in Scotland, and its people as friendly and hospitably hearted. Perhaps too, its growing beauty, apart from its history of romance and Borders battles, has by the work of many artists who frequent it added not a little to its fame of loveliness, and it is that nearness of unspoilt nature that makes it the artist's paradise that it is" - E A Taylor.

Like most other areas of Scotland in the mid-nineteenth century, Kirkcudbright, the town and the county, had its quota of local amateur artists, who painted local views or subjects, as well as the occasional touring professional artist attracted by the county's landscape qualities. The development of the railway system in the 1860s considerably improved the area's transport links with the rest of Scotland, at a time when the local population was falling so that there was no shortage of accommodation or studio space in Kirkcudbright for any artist wishing to work here.

Kirkcudbright's particular artistic story can be traced back to the remarkable Faed family of artists from Gatehouse of Fleet. All the family showed artistic talent, but Thomas and John, were the most successful coming to prominence in Edinburgh and latterly London, from whence John returned to Gatehouse in the 1880s. Their painting is technically first rate, well-finished and generally concerned with Biblical, historical or literary narrative subjects, often with a moral comment. 

In Kirkcudbright, the artistic achievements of the Faeds were recognised and celebrated in their own lifetime. Their financial success must have encouraged the families of talented younger artists, that a career as an artist was a viable option. When the young Edward Hornel left Kirkcudbright to train in Edinburgh, his uncle urged him to 'try to put Tom Faed in the shade'. To the young Hornel, the Faeds must have provided an inspiration, and they certainly brought a distinction to art in the local community. The exact nature of the relationship between John Faed and the younger group of Kirkcudbright artists is as yet unclear for want of sufficient evidence. Arguably Thomas and John Faed's work represented the 'establishment' style which the younger generation of Scottish artists, inspired by the realism of artists such as the Belgian, Bastien-Lepage, were anxious to move away from. However, what evidence there is in correspondence suggests John took an avuncular interest in the new generation of artists, and he was willing to become the first President of the Kirkcudbrightshire Fine Art Association in 1886. The Association was the first public manifestation of Kirkcudbright's artistic community, and after its first exhibition in 1886 it went on to hold a further three annual exhibitions, showing work not only by he local artists, but also by visiting 'Glasgow Boys'. 

In the late 1880s, Edward A Hornel, W S MacGeorge, Thomas B Blacklock and William Mouncey (Hornel's brother-in-law) were the principal local artists. Hornel was born in 1864, at Bacchus Marsh near Melbourne, Australia. In 1866 he returned with his family to Kirkcudbright, where the Hornel family had been resident from the early 18th century. In 1880 he enrolled in the Edinburgh School of Art. In 1883 he exhibited his first painting at the annual Royal Scottish Academy exhibition, and in the same year enrolled at the Academie Royale des Beaux Arts in Antwerp under the teaching of Prof. Charles Verlat.. 

MacGeorge was born Castle Douglas in 1861. Although three years older than Hornel, he studied with him at the Trustees Academy, Edinburgh. The school's records suggest that MacGeorge was the better painter, as he won a South Kensington Medal. The two young artists were on close enough terms for MacGeorge and Hornel to continue their studies in Antwerp together, along with fellow Edinburgh student, William Walls. 

Blacklock was born in Kirkcudbright in 1863. He too attended the Trustees Academy at this time. In 1882 his work was first exhibited in the annual exhibition of the 
R.S. A. Unlike MacGeorge and Hornel, he chose to continue his training through entering the Life School of the R.S.A. in 1883. 

Mouncey was a house painter and decorator by trade, but a keen amateur artist. He was sufficiently successful in business to devote his time to painting later in life and first exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1888. By the time of his premature death in 1901, his ability as a landscape painter was recognised nationally. 

In 1885 Hornel returned to the family home in Kirkcudbright at 18 High Street, and established a studio at 21 High Street, the Old Custom House. In the autumn of the same year he met the artist George Henry in Glasgow, and the two became close friends. Henry was already one of the 'Glasgow Boys' and introduced Hornel to the group. The 'Boys' originated in the late 1870s as a group of Glasgow based artists who rejected the then orthodox approach to painting, which tended to depict subjects in a romantic, sentimental or moralistic way. During the summer months, the artists would disperse to different locations around Scotland, and with Hornel's influence, Kirkcudbright became a favourite location. From 1886, and for the next 7 or 8 years, Hornel and Henry worked closely together in Glasgow and Kirkcudbright, sharing each other's studios, together with James Guthrie in 1886 and 1887. Henry's most innovative and controversial painting Galloway Landscape , with its echoes of Gauguin's Synthetism, was painted just outside Kirkcudbright in 1889. 

In 1893 Henry and Hornel visited Japan together. On his return, Hornel's Japanese exhibition was heralded as "the most magnificent display of a single artist's genius ever bought together in Scotland", and he was recognised as the new leader of the Glasgow School. 

Hornel's success as an artist in the 1890s allowed him to purchase Broughton House, a fine 18th century town house in Kirkcudbright High Street, where he lived with one of his sisters. 

From the 1890s onwards, artists were drawn to Kirkcudbright by Hornel and the growing reputation of the town and surrounding coast and landscape as a first class painting ground. Some were summer visitors only, but others became permanent residents, such as William Robson, from 1904 and Charles Oppenheimer from 1908. Robson had previously worked in the artists' and writers' colony on Capri. Oppenheimer came from Salford, where his father was in business as a craft tile manufacturer. Both men became key figures in the town's artistic community. Jessie M King, a recent graduate from Glasgow School of Art was another visitor from around 1905. Early career success as a book illustrator in the 'Glasgow Style' allowed Jessie King to purchase a High Street property in 1908, apparently on Hornel's advice. She renamed the property 'Greengate' and intended to use it as 'bolt hole' from Glasgow, but from 1915 it was to become the permanent home for her and her husband, E A Taylor. Up to then, they had been teaching in their own 'Shieling Atelier' in Paris, but with the outbreak of the First World War , the flow of art students ceased. Unable to make a living in Paris, the couple came to Kirkcudbright to see out the War. However as she later wrote to E A Hornel 

Since 1915, the Fates seem to have decided that we should stay here for a longer time, and it was during this enforced stay that the charm of this quaint, old-world town took real hold of me. 

Jessie M King and E A Taylor brought new vigour to Kirkcudbright's artistic community. As well as their connections with Glasgow School of Art, their teaching in Paris had acquainted them with many European and American artists, as well as other ex-patriot Scots, including Samuel J Peploe, one of the Scottish Colourists. He became a regular visitor to Kirkcudbright from 1918, and painted town subjects and in the local countryside. The couple decided against returning to Paris when the war ended, although their flat was kept on to allow Taylor to continue to review French exhibitions for The Studio art journal, which he did until the 1930s. Both continued to teach in Kirkcudbright, attracting students from both Glasgow and the Edinburgh College of Art, including Cecile Walton, Dorothy Nesbit and Dorothy Johnstone. It was around this time that Robert Burns, Head of Painting in Edinburgh, is quoted as saying that no student's training was complete without a stay with the Taylors at the Greengate. The cottages down Greengate Close provided cheap accommodation for visiting artists, and some permanent residents such as Lena Alexander. By the 1920s, journalists were writing of the 'Greengate Coterie' largely composed of women artists. The group included artists, but also the metal worker, Agnes Harvey, and the jeweller, Mary Thew. 

The deaths of Jessie M King in 1949 and E A Taylor in 1951 mark the end of a vibrant period in the history of Kirkcudbright's artistic community. However the influx of artists and craft workers continued in the 1940s including William Miles Johnstone and his wife Dorothy Nesbit, Lena Alexander, Tim Jeffs, the sculptor Phyllis Bone - the first woman to be elected to the Royal Scottish Academy - and the potter Tommy Lochhead. Behind these Charles Oppenheimer continued to paint until his death in the 1960s and was respected as the senior member of the community. His 'gravitas' was called in by the younger artists to support moves to preserve the Harbour Cottages and create the town's Harbour Cottage Art Gallery, which opened in 1956. Tim Jeffs, Tommy Lochhead and Dorothy Nesbit were also involved in setting up the successful Summer School in Kirkcudbright for fine art, ceramics and textiles. The demise of the artist community has been dated to 1983 - when Lena Alexander - seen as the last of the 1940s group - died. Since this time artists and craft workers have been more generally spread across the County, although the town continues to attract a noticeable numbers of artists - some visiting, but others choosing to settle. 

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