‘a view of Glasgow from the South East’ Craig Lamont

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‘A View of Glasgow from the South East’ - Craig Lamont


Reproduction of engraving entitled ‘A View of Glasgow from the South East’
Robert Paul (1739-1770)
Foulis Academy (1753-1775)

Courses that may find source useful: The Treaty of the Union, The Atlantic Slave Trade, Changing Britain

Discussing ‘A View of Glasgow from the South East’, University of Glasgow’s Dr Craig Lamont discusses the legacy of the Foulis brothers, the growth of the City of Glasgow and the subsequent emergence of civic pride through the city’s print culture during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

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Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4

Section 1

This object is a reproduction of an engraving entitled ‘A View of Glasgow from the South East’. It depicts an expanse of land, some of which is being farmed, and an interesting view of Glasgow’s skyline.

One of the mottos of the Foulis Academy, where the engraving was made in 1762, was the Latin phrase Ars Longa, Vita Brevis: Art is Long, Life is Short. It is fitting, because we do not know much about the maker of this engraving, Robert Paul, other than the fact that he lived a very short life, dying at the age of 31.

His legacy, however, is intertwined with that of the Foulis brothers: the two Glaswegian publishers whose memory in the city should be much more celebrated. It was in their Academy of Fine Arts, established in 1753, where Robert Paul produced several topographical views of the city and its buildings, including this view from the south east.

The artist also created views from the south, the south-west, the west, and prospects of the Glasgow Cathedral from the north, as well as views from within the University garden. Taken together, you might say that Robert Paul’s engravings give us an immersive, 360-degree view of 18th century Glasgow.

The old university buildings where the Foulis brothers worked and lived were demolished as long ago as 1870. This is why objects like this are so important. They record and preserve an intimate version of Glasgow as it was in the age of the Scottish Enlightenment and as it was during the growth of the British Empire. Some words on both of these headings will help us understand more about the legacy of the Foulis brothers.

But, for now, let’s take a step back and consider the context of this object and Georgian Glasgow more generally.

Glasgow was a fast-growing place in the 18th century. From Glasgow Cross, or the Trongate area, up to the High Street towards the Cathedral, and west towards the new streets and wynds, Glasgow was evolving from a town to a well-connected city.

The Acts of Union in 1707 are often credited for the city’s growth in wealth, as Glasgow was well-placed to trade across the Atlantic. But for this, and the controversial fall-out of the failed Darien scheme in the late 17th century, there are plenty, more able accounts of Glasgow’s imperial connections. During these political and religious tensions, scores of pamphlets were printed with the aim of defending Scotland’s sovereignty. But for the purposes of this talk, the key word is not sovereignty, or even Scotland, it is print.

Section 2

During the 18th century, print was one of the most radically evolving cultures in Glasgow. The Acts of Union were followed by the succession of the Hanoverian monarchy, when George I took the throne in 1714, heralding in the period of history we know as the Georgian era.

We can look to the stately portraits and treasures of this royal family for an insight into the history of the age. Glasgow Museums holds such portraits of the Scottish men and women who were at the very heart of this society, such as Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll, after whom Argyle Street in Glasgow was named.

But we can often get closer to the politics, closer to the action, by looking at the print culture. In 1721, James Arbuckle’s poem Glotta was printed by William Duncan in Glasgow. The title refers to the river Clyde: ‘Glotta’ being the Latin name for ‘Clutha’, which is the Gaelic word for ‘Clyde’. In this poem, Arbuckle makes it clear that he is a Unionist with his description of the thistle and the rose becoming one, and his opposition to the Jacobites. But, in doing this, he also accounts for Glasgow’s shape and size, writing:

The Muse would sing when Glasgow she surveys,

But Glasgow’s Beauty shall outlast her lays.

Though small in Compass, not the least in Fame,

She boasts her lofty Tow’rs, and antient Name.

 These ‘lofty towers’ are the same structures which Robert Paul captures in his engraving of Glasgow from the South-East. In fact, this topographical mode of poetry became quite popular, and the print culture of the 18th and 19th centuries often mimicked the views of their locations, and vice versa.

Forty years later, the poet John Wilson wrote Clyde: a Poem, in which he says:

As shines the moon among the lesser sires,

Unrivalled Glasgow lifts her stately spires

For commerce, glorious with her golden crown

Has marked fair Glasgow for her favourite town.

By taking these poems together, we get a sense of growth and civic pride. The idea of commerce and trade taking their physical toll on the city also suggests the impact of the British Empire on Glasgow.

But what about the Scottish Enlightenment, that movement which we tend to associate as something scientific, institutional, and contained mainly within Edinburgh? Glasgow was, in fact, a major player in the so-called Age of Reason, and the Foulis brothers can actually offer us an insight into these forgotten connections.

The Saltmarket area, south of Glasgow cross, was the city’s printing hub. News and lives of the elite dominated newspapers, books, journals, pamphlets and prints. Close on by on the High Street, the old University played host to Robert and Andrew Foulis’ printing revolution.

These words, just read, appeared on a panel during Glasgow Life’s recent exhibition on Georgian Glasgow. How Glasgow Flourished, as it was aptly named, rejuvenated this long-neglected time in the city’s history.

The exhibition, now closed, has a new legacy in the permanent Glasgow Stories section of the Kelvingrove museum. There you can find items such as medals, paintings, and another engraving by Robert Paul produced at the same Foulis Academy.

His view from the south-east shows many important buildings of Georgian Glasgow, including St. Andrew’s in the square, the Merchant’s steeple at the Briggait, the Tolbooth steeple at Glasgow Cross, the Old University on the High Street, the MacFarlane Observatory, the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace, and Glasgow Cathedral itself.

These are the stately spires, jutting up towards the sky, which Arbuckle and Wilson wrote of. These are also the same views which Glasgow’s most-famous poet, Thomas Campbell, looked forward to when he returned from England in 1795, saying:

Hail, happy Clutha! glad shall I survey

Thy gilded turrets from the distant way;

Thy sight shall cheer the weary traveller’s toil,

And joy shall hail me to my native soil.

Therefore, it is important that these landmarks of Glasgow’s 18th century skyline are preserved in words and images. The old University and the Bishop’s palace were demolished as the city expanded.

So too were many of the other buildings you can see in this engraving. We still have St. Andrew’s Church and the Cathedral, but in most other cases it is only the steeples themselves that remain. By giving these towering reminders of Georgian Glasgow some context, they become something more important to the future generations than aged stone.

Section 3

In saying this, what can we do to remember the lost Foulis Academy where the brothers trained pupils in the full range of fine arts for the first time in British history?

Perhaps we should pause at the importance of this claim.

The fine arts are an essential strand of the Scottish Enlightenment. There had been other similar art schools in the British Isles before the Foulis academy in 1753, but they were short-lived. In Edinburgh, the Academy of St Luke was initiated in 1729 by the poet Allan Ramsay, the architect William Adam, and the English engraver Richard Cooper, among others.

In 1742, a school of design was opened in Dublin by Robert West as part of the Dublin Society, later the Royal Dublin Society, which was established 11 years before.Neither of these prior establishments lasted long, and, more importantly, neither could boast the combined efforts of a renowned printing press and a range of skills in art from painting to engraving.

The brothers set up their main classroom in the upper floor of the University library, which was designed by William Adam. The trained eye can actually see this building in Robert Paul’s view of Glasgow from the South East, with its distinctive set of three arched windows. In the court or quadrangle of the old University, the brothers held annual open-air art exhibitions, which were attended by various members of society.

All told, Glasgow’s Foulis Academy was part of an 18th century taste for the classics inspired by the philosopher Francis Hutcheson. The brothers’ printing press became famous for their award-winning editions of Greek and Roman classics, especially Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.

The art academy seems to have been formed with this classical culture in mind. But where did the knowledge of setting up such an academy come from, if not in the British Isles? When Robert Foulis returned from his travels in Europe in the late 1730s, he noted how Paris was particularly interesting for understanding the ‘connection and mutual influence’, as he called it, ‘of the Arts and Sciences upon one another and upon society.’

Beside this, Robert was interested in how developments in Drawing and Modelling could be useful to manufacturers. In a city like Glasgow, using the arts for the improvement of industry and commerce would seem like a most welcome innovation.

The brothers’ relationship with the city’s merchant elite was certainly strong. In setting up their Academy, they received financial support from three of Glasgow’s most successful merchants of the day: John Glassford, Archibald Ingram, and John Coats Campbell. Their money helped the brothers pay for art teachers, including an engraver, two painters and a copperplate printer from France, and two or three modellers from Italy.

It was in the Foulis Academy that some of Scotland’s most renowned figures in 18th century art were trained, including the painter David Allan and James Tassie, whose famous medallions often depict the elite figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. As the Academy progressed, the Foulis brothers saw fit to send their most promising pupils to Rome, where they might develop their skills under the supervision of other artists.

One of these was William Cochrane, who studied under the Scottish artist Gavin Hamilton. Another was Archibald McLaughlan, who is said to have painted a copy of Raphael’s famous School of Athens by permission of the Pope. Importantly, McLaughlan is also known as the painter of the Glassford Family portrait. This particular painting has become one of the most fascinating objects held by Glasgow Museums in recent times: offering an insight into the opulence of the city’s merchant elite.

The figure of a slave or servant in the left-hand edge of the painting has also opened up much discussion of Glasgow’s role in slavery.

Section 4

That we can associate the Art Academy in Glasgow with this side of 18th century life is important. It reminds us that Glasgow was not cordoned off from the rest of Britain in the ages of the Enlightenment and Empire.

Most importantly, it lets us visualise Glasgow at key moments in its growth. By looking at the objects of the Academy, whether it be Robert Paul’s topographical view, James Tassie’s medallion of Adam Smith, or the Glassford family portrait… these objects bring Georgian Glasgow to life. They encourage us to connect the narratives and themes that are often dealt with separately.

For better or worse, they deepen our understanding of the history of Glasgow and challenge the commonplace perceptions of a period of time that has often been overlooked. In the case of Robert Paul’s engraving: it also lets us re-evaluate the history of art in Glasgow. Today, we think of Mackintosh and the Glasgow School of Art. Often synonymous, both the man and the building are the treasures of Glasgow’s international reputation for producing world-class artists.

Before the Reid Building was completed in 2014, the Glasgow School of Art had a building in its place named after the Foulis brothers. The School Press was also at one point named in honour of the Glaswegian publishers. Robert Paul’s engraving represents Glasgow’s first real engagement with the arts which, as we know, has been long-lasting.

The Academy closed in 1775, following the death of Andrew Foulis. Robert, who was then in considerable debt, died a year later on a trip home from Edinburgh. The remnants of the Academy, including the original master paintings, sculptures, models, and works on paper, were sold in the hope that Robert’s son, Andrew, might continue operating the printing press at the very least.

This he managed to do until the early 1800s, but soon found himself in a similar financial situation to his father and uncle. Some have seen the Academy as a pitfall in the Foulis brothers’ career. As Captain Edward Topham remarked in the 18th century:

[It was] during the rage of their fancy that [the Foulis brothers] forgot their former business and neglected an art which might have made them immortal.

But Robert’s last words about the Academy reveal that the humanism inspired by the likes of Francis Hutcheson was the real driving force behind the Academy, instead of money or fame.

‘The more the Arts are cultivated’, he says, ‘they will become the more perfect and the more diffused.’

Our understanding of the brothers today paints Georgian Glasgow in a new light, revealing more fact and detail about the city than first meets the eye.

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