Glen Orchy, Storm coming on

Glen Orchy, Storm coming on by Henry Moore RA RWS, 1831-1895. Oil on canvas. Signed and dated 1895. Oil on canvas, 36 x 61 inches. Provenance: The artist's daughter, Mrs Luker, and thence by descent. Courtesy of the Maas Gallery. Click on image to enlarge it.

According to the Maas Gallery site,

Moore's biographer, the critic Frank Maclean, recognised the qualities, strengths, the weaknesses and the modernity of this interesting, uncompromising, very late painting (his last exhibited picture): 'A large landscape, "Glen Orchy, Storm coming on" formed one of his five contributions to the Royal Academy of 1895. As an attempt to realise a particularly grand atmospheric effect, this is an interesting work, notwithstanding its several limitations. The foreground shows us a river in spate, brown and foaming: stern forms of mountains and, above them, a lowering rain-cloud give a vast and sombre dignity to a scene of which the solemnity is only saved by a patch of sunlight gleaming faintly on the green hill beyond. The colour is disposed in broad masses; there are no disturbing details; the spirit of the desolate glen broods over the canvas; the sympathy of the artist with majestic Nature never proclaimed itself more emphatically than here, and yet — it does not satisfy! One feels — for the first time perhaps, definitely — that the hand is beginning to falter, even whilst the will to do remains, and the brain is still clear, and the knowledge stored up through half-a-century is still intact. One feels that something of the characteristic quality has gone out of the work, the textures of hill and burn and cloud are too much alike, that the magic of "touch" has somehow departed. A certain "sloppiness" in the handling points to a loss of control over the medium. The consciousness of oil-paint interferes with the sentiment of romance and the sensuous spell of colour-harmony, even with the charm of aerial effect on which the painter has clearly concentrated its effort. One feels, in fact, that the formal merits of this canvas are but the shell of what he would have accomplished in the same subject a few years before. But If "Glen Orchy" fail in achievement, it is a splendid failure. It shows no compromise with the powers that are too often invoked to convert such failures into saleable middle-class pictures. No studio tricks have been allowed to interrupt the dogged sincerity which is at once the cause of its shortcomings and their redemption. At the time of painting it — indeed, for many months previously — he had been in an extremely delicate state of health. In the winter of 1893-94 a bout of influenza was succeeded by inflammation of the lungs. Writing to a friend in January, he makes reference to this illness; also to the fact that he had gone out in a thick fog to attend a council dinner at the Royal Academy whilst still only convalescent. Apparently no ill effects follow this somewhat rash exploit. The following July his daughter and he accompanied his friend Mr Gossage on a short cruise on the latter's yacht, the Solyst. They moved about chiefly in the lower Clyde, going up many of the lochs, and also exploring the neighbourhood of Arran and Bute. Leaving the yacht at Helensburgh, they proceeded to Dalmally, where they spent five weeks, Moore doing the little sketching – notably the oil study for the "Glen Orchy" – and paying some few visits to friends in that part of the country. They returned south by sea from Glasgow. A brilliant little water-colour seascape is the only artistic memorandum he has left of this last voyage, and the entire trip seems to have had the restoration of health as its object rather than anything else.'

Moore died whilst the painting was hanging in the Royal Academy. The many notices this very modern painting attracted in the newspaper reviews of the RA that year were mostly favourable, this being a characteristic example: 'Mr. Henry Moore sends a wild mountainous scene "Glen Orchy – Storm coming on," which, for fine landscape draughtsmanship, truth, and impressive grandeur of effect, is not surpassed by anything in the collection' (Globe, 4 May 1895).

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Maclean, Frank. Henry Moore RA. The Walter Scott Publishing Co. Ltd.

Makers of British Art. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905. pp.101-3.

Created 26 February 2018