Two Schoolgirls, 1937

James Cowie, Aberdeen Art Gallery

Cowie was born on an Aberdeenshire farm. First studying English, he became art master at Fraserburgh Academy in 1909, saving up to enrol at 26 at Glasgow School of Art, where he met his wife. After graduating he taught for 20 years at Bellshill Academy. Here he painted memorable portraits of his pupils, managing to reconcile his private with his paid activity, using the classroom as though it was his own studio, working along with the pupils - and observing them closely as they themselves worked. He preferred plain, gawky girls and average awkward boys. Like Constable, who he admired, he made art out of the everyday.

Lost youth, lost innocence, is a constant theme in his work (he often harked back to the Aberdeenshire landscape of his boyhood). He used the pupils as models to make fastidious preparatory studies and pencil sketches for oil portraits which capture the essence of adolescence. Because his style was laborious, his work is rare. Two Schoolgirls epitomises all his many subtle skills and talents. Cowie's work is based squarely on drawing. His style was the opposite of spontaneous or immediate. It required care and revision. He despised swagger in life and in art. His best sitters were his two daughters and his pupils.

He was also interested in tone and the technique of painting, studying methods from the Quattrocento up to Degas.

His tremendous draughtsmanship produced a precise, disciplined approach to his figures and to still-lifes where he liked to combine objects with history. He hated free gestural expressionism and despised colour. He did not get his first solo show till 1935 when he was nearly 50 years old.

The same year he left Bellshill,

to take up a job as head of painting at Aberdeen's art school before settling at Hospitalfield, Arbroath, where he painted and taught

until 1948, influencing especially Colquhoun and Eardley. He died in 1956. Two Schoolgirls resulted from many preliminary drawings, some from life. (You can see the two girls are carefully posed.) Yet such was his painstaking trial and error method, that though begun in Bellshill's artroom, the picture was completed in an Aberdeen studio.

Having exploited his own circumstances as a teacher to provide material for his work, late in life he wrote to his daughter, then unhappy as a teacher in London: ''The thing to do is to make your job serve its purpose of providing the necessary means of life and go on expanding your inner life as hard as you can. I do not regret my years of teaching. It gave me the means of developing my artistic mind in peace.''