signed and dated l.c.: W MacTaggart/ 1889-99
Barr Smith Esq. of Adelaide, Australia;
Thence by descent to the present owners
'The Sounding Sea is a veritable masterpiece' (James L. Caw, William McTaggart R.S.A., V.P.R.S.W., A BIography and an Appreciation, 1917, p.124)
According to McTaggart's biographer James Caw The Sounding Sea was painted during a visit to Southend, Kintyre on the west coast of Scotland in 1888. Whilst earlier visits to Kintyre had resulted in little more than watercolours, the sojourn of 1888 produced a series of important oils of which the present work was considered among the most accomplished by Caw who met McTaggart that year. 'All are reminiscent of the most exquisite weather, still and sunny but clear and fresh, tranquil and serene yet full of magical suggestion. Never before, it seems to me, had he evoked such spiritual harmony and visual beauty from nature or given such exquisite and masterly pictorial expression to his conceptions.' (ibid Caw, p.124) The second date on the painting suggests that the artist made alterations or additions to the picture ten years later in 1899. A smaller version of the same composition (formerly in the collection of Mr Graham Paton of Alloa) is similarly dated 1889 and 1897 whilst another reduced version is dated 1890 (formerly in the collection of Mr John Duncan Jr. of Edinburgh, probably the picture sold Christie's, 13 March 2005, lot 615 as The Toy Boat).
The Sounding Sea depicts three little girls playing amid the surf whilst a boy amuses himself with a toy boat, with a beautiful effect of brilliant light; 'which dances on the waves and glitters amongst the flying spray in 'The Sounding Sea' (1889), another of the fine Southend pictures... remarkable for the wonderful way in which the illusion of sunlight is conjured up and combined with a poetic conception of nature; but, while one would not perhaps assert that the later pictures of this period are more beautiful than the earlier, there is little doubt that they give larger and robuster, as well as more elusive and poetic, expression to the vital spirit of love and beauty, which wraps the world in a garment of light.' (ibid Caw, p.184)
William McTaggart was the son of a crofter, born at Aros in Kintyre in 1835. After studying in Edinburgh at the Trustee's Academy, McTaggart supported himself by painting portraits until financially secure enough to be able to turn his attention to painting landscapes and seascapes. He became one of Scotland's most innovative painters, painting with a technique quite unlike anyone else at that time, with loose brushstrokes and bright colour. Loving to paint out of doors, he painted small oil studies en plein air which were later worked up as larger compositions in the studio. McTaggart's work was spontaneous and energetic and perfectly expresses the feeling of movements in the waters around rocks and the gentle breezes of summer winds. There was a shift in McTaggart's style of painting in the course of the late 1870s and early 1880s, away from a representation of the landscape or coast as a vehicle for such observations, towards something more abstract and concerned with poetic evocation of atmospheric and meteorological effects. McTaggart's experiments with pure landscape subjects in the early 1880s are exemplified by a work entitled The Wave (Kirkaldy Museum and Art Gallery), a painting which explores the textures and harmonious colours of a similar beach scene in terms which may be regarded as akin to Impressionism but which omits all human elements.
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