Hugh Green (1892 -1973) was an amateur artist and painter-decorator whose undemonstrative paintings are the subject of this new retrospective at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling. Charting the life and work of an artist who worked well under the art world radar, it is an insight into a man whose career was a mute reflection of that he perhaps wished to lead.
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Green was a working-class man, born in Alloa and brought up in Bridge of Allan, where he remained for the rest of his life. He began his artistic training on an evening course at Glasgow School of Art, and was awarded the Evening Course Medal for Excellent Work in Textiles in 1915. He became a painter-decorator in the firm of P&R Rose, from then on spending much of his time up a ladder applying paint to Stirlingshire front rooms. But he devoted much of his spare time to painting, as a founder member of the Stirling Circle of the Arts and Crafts in 1928.
Landscapes were Green's passion, although his few sketches of people point to a certain skill for figurative work. He worked doggedly, often returning to the same subject several times. His watercolours are conservative, by any standards, and traditional, but his paintings have, according to Elspeth King, Director of the Smith Art Gallery and Museum "a pleasant, quiet stillness about them".
"Some years ago we were given a couple of gifts of Hugh Green landscapes," says King. "I was really taken with them." Since then, King has been "building up a wee collection" including one work found on eBay for £18. When Art History graduate James Wedlake, an intern on the Museums Galleries Scotland programme, began work at the museum, the chance to organize an exhibition finally came to fruition.
Wedlake has pieced together much information about Green's life, largely from the latter's surviving relatives, among which is the intriguing suggestion that Green was a friend of Charles Rennie Macintosh. But if Green was in contact with Mackintosh - one relative even says he was taught by him, although in what capacity is uncertain as Mackintosh held no formal teaching post in the Art School - his work is entirely dissimilar in style.
If Green's textile design talent was his forte as a student, he never got the chance to use his Glasgow-taught skills, says King, because "he was the son of a soldier and working class." Had he been middle class, King reckons, he would have studied on the full-time degree course at Glasgow and been more likely to go on to be a designer like William Morris or Mackintosh before him, or a dedicated artist. Of course, all this is moot. And in any case, perhaps we can guess.
To every painting Green exhibited (and sold), he attached a photo of himself in his artist's smock standing in front of a portrait of his two young sisters - the very image of 'The Artist'. Interesting, too, to note that while he exhibited and sold at the annual Stirling Circle of the Arts & Crafts exhibition, and also, during the 1940s, at the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, he never once used the opportunity to design textiles.
In the end, it is the reclaiming of this Stirlingshire lad that interests King.
"I hope this exhibition helps us get greater recognition of Stirling's major place in the history of Scottish art," she says. "It's the great unacknowledged story, and Hugh Green is just a tiny part of it."
Hugh Green's Stirlingshire, Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum (01786 471917, www.smithartgalleryandmuseum.co.uk) until November 2