Jan Patience

ARTIST, writer and TV presenter Lachlan Goudie is a man on a mission. That mission? To loosen the stays around the story of Scotland's art, while painting a vivid and deeply personal picture of how 5000 years worth of creativity has shaped the nation.

"We have all become a bit snooty about art," Goudie declares as we discuss his latest creation, a handsome hardback book called The Story of Scottish Art, via FaceTime. "Curators often build a perimeter wall around art but artists have traditionally performed a practical role in society. Only recently have artists become cerebral beings. The idea of craft has always been important and that is what I have tried to get across."

Enthusiasm is Goudie's default position. Anyone who has watched him in the likes of BBC's Big Painting Challenge and Live Drawing Live! will testify to that. He has also presented several documentaries on art, including The Story of Scottish Art, from which this book sprang. Communicating his love of art – as both practitioner and communicator – is central to his character.

The Story of Scottish Art emerged from a four-part TV series for the BBC of the same name which was presented by Goudie. The series aired in 2016. He says: "It took me four years to write. In between times, I was making television programmes, making work for exhibitions and overseeing my dad's estate and exhibitions. Two kids were born during that time too. So I was pretty busy!"

His style of presenting is expansive and enthusiastic; much like his powers of description on the page. His painting style is also full of brio, with an expressive use of colour and a confident line. He spent seven years documenting the construction of several ships at the Govan BAE Systems shipyard, including the last vessel to have a traditional launch on the slipways of the Clyde, HMS Duncan. He created over 70 drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures for this series; his skill as a draughtsman rising to the surface at every turn. Tender portraits of shipyard workers contrast with complex depictions of the interiors of ships under construction.

The son of celebrated Scottish painter, Alexander (Sandy) Goudie and his French wife, Marie-Renee, Lachlan Goudie grew up immersed in art. He was born in 1976 into a household, where, as he writes in the book, "drawing, painting and sculpture were the lifeblood of daily existence." The youngest of three children, within weeks of his birth, he had been painted into a vast canvas called Portrait of the Artist and His Family. In the painting, Lachlan is a nappy-less babe being breast-fed in his seated mother's arms, while his bored-looking brother – dressed as a little drummer boy – and his sister clutching a limp doll in her hand, stand behind. His father, with long, flowing blond locks, is in white bell-bottoms and a black tunic; a dominant figure in the scene; staring the viewer out.

As Goudie writes, "From an early age, I also aspired to be a painter, and quickly became my father's pupil. He showed me how to create images but he also made me respect the craft, the tradition and the history of our common creative bloodline."

A virtuoso figurative painter, Goudie senior, a plumber's son from Paisley who enrolled as a 16-year-old at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA), followed his instincts, bucking against the prevailing wind of fashion in art circles. He went on to combine a burgeoning career as a painter with teaching at the GSA.

Lachlan Goudie oversees the Alexander Goudie Trust, set up following his father's death in 2004. As he writes in the book: "Dad painted richly-coloured landscapes, still lifes and portraits. He was unapologetic about his painterliness and love of French 19th-century art. My father identified with the Glasgow Boys and the Colourists, and when he painted an enormous cycle of canvases illustrating Robert Burns' poem Tam o' Shanter, he looked to David Wilkie's narrative paintings as a guide. Being Scottish, though, was not more significant to him than his love of Velazquez and Van Dyke, Titian and Matisse. He was more concerned with being defined by his own artistic philosophy: 'Joie de vivre, that's what I paint!'"

Lachlan laughs: "Dad used to force me to sit for portrait sessions every Saturday morning and I see my daughter and son in these portraits now. I used to find it excruciating and infinitesimally boring! Now I'm the tyrant who tries to draw my children and it's a very interesting challenge. I find it so difficult to draw them…"

When we first spoke about the book at the end of March, it felt like the world had shut down. Goudie was in rural Dorset at that point, locked away with young family in a cottage belonging to wife's aunt. Like everyone else at that time, our conversation kept coming back to Covid-19 and its effect on life, the universe and everything around us.

Subsequently, publication of The Story of Scottish Art was delayed until early September, so we are catching up again. This time, Goudie is speaking from London at the home he shares with his television producer wife, Charlotte, and two young children, Clementine, 3, and Yves Louis, who is coming up for a year old.

Never one to kick his heels, he spent the time painting in the lush, rolling countryside around the cottage in preparation for a forthcoming exhibition with The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh.

He had been due to go to Mauritius for ten days in June to teach drawing and painting and make work for the exhibition, but this, like most things, was cancelled and he concentrated on painting his surroundings.

In May, he made a foray out into the world to co-present a second helping of BBC Four's surprise hit, Life Drawing Live!, in which viewers watch live and draw life models in poses based on classical works of art.

"I love making programmes like Life Drawing Live!," he says. "I love learning and communicating how I feel about art. The drawing process is so important. It's an opportunity to go back to basics and the viewers seem to love it. When it aired in February, I don't think the commissioners thought it was going to be so popular. Their email system collapsed the first time they did it because of the volume of participants sending in their life drawings!"

With the publication of his first book, Goudie is gaining his spurs as an archetypal, Scottish lad o' pairts; a bit like fellow polymath, John Byrne. In the book, Goudie tells a great anecdote in the book about how his father met Byrne while looking around the GSA's diploma exhibition in1963. Impressed by his life drawing, Goudie bought a number of nude studies. "Later, when my father's landlady stumbled across the drawings at the cottage he rented, she was so scandalised by their 'pornographic' content that she chucked them onto the fire."

Goudie attended Kelvinside Academy in the west end of Glasgow before winning a place at Cambridge University, where he did a degree in English Literature. He went on to gain another degree in fine art at Camberwell College of Arts. As the son of an artist and an artist himself, there is a very real sense in his book that Goudie knows and empathises with the struggles every artist goes through.

Goudie admits he has learned a lot in the writing of this book. "The story is personal to me. Portrait painters such as Ramsay, Raeburn and Wilkie were very important to my dad. He had a big library which I inherited from him and which I used when researching and writing the book. They would open naturally at certain points, which he'd studied closely time and time again when painting.

"He was was intrigued by Wilkie, who had also painted narrative works around Robert Burns' poetry. I hadn't much time for likes of Allan Ramsay and as a teenager, found him boring and a bit too icy but reading through Ramsay's diaries, as I did for the book, you encounter the soul of a person.

"Artists have domestic strife too; ordinary crap. We all do and deal with. Every painting and every artwork has that in the background."

The Story of Scottish Art is worth the wait. It has almost 400 pages worth of words and pictures within its lush covers. On the front, is a detail from Arthur Melville's dazzling watercolour, Dancers at the Moulin Rouge (1889), while on the back cover, there is a photograph of a carved ball from Glass Hill in Towie, Aberdeenshire which has been dated to c. 3000 BC.

The book jacket underscores Goudie's commitment to telling the neglected stories around Scotland's artistic masterpieces across several millennia; from the earliest Neolithic symbols etched onto the landscape of Kilmartin Glen to Glasgow's prominence as a contemporary centre of artistic innovation. Architecture has its place too. There's a fascinating chapter in the book called The Shock of the New, which tells the story of the way in which Scotland's built environment was reinvented in the second half of the 20th century.

Goudie has an artist's eye for detail and a storyteller's knack for hooking a reader in which makes this book as captivating as any award-winning novel. I thought I had a good handle on the history of Scottish art, but I learned a lot. I laughed, gasped and – quite unexpectedly – wept. Tears fell as I read Goudie's description of how the painter Allan Ramsay drew his dead child's portrait in 1841. The little boy is depicted by Ramsay with his eyes shut and a half-smile playing around his cherubic rosy lips; the only flash of colour in this unfinished work. Goudie writes: "He later told a friend that 'while thoroughly occupied thus, [he] felt no more concern than if the subject had been an indifferent one. All grief was gone. But when he laid down his pencil, it returned."

As this and many other stories about artists reveal, this is no po-faced academic tome. It pulses with life and it's crammed with stories which tell Scotland's story through its artistry.

The sweep of Scottish history in all its gory glory is a backdrop, particularly for the first half of the book. Goudie has left no stone unturned in his bid to shine a light on hidden corners of artisanal archives. He has unearthed artistic heroes and heroines galore and breathed new life into their stories.

The sorry tale of royal jeweller, James Mossman, stands out. Mossman was the grandson of Edinburgh goldsmith, John Mossman, who in 1540, refashioned an extravagant new jewel-laden golden crown for James V. Mossman was recognised as a favourite of the King, but when James died, old Mossman was jailed in the Edinburgh Tolbooth, perceived as a possible threat to the authority of James V's illegitimate son, and a pretender to the throne.

Later, James Mossman was to pay dearly for his proximity to power. A loyal subject of Mary Queen of Scots, Mossman and his fellow "Marians" barricaded themselves inside Edinburgh Castle after she was forced to abdicate in 1567 and a long siege ensued. The Castle eventually fell and Mossman was tortured mercilessly in a bid to find out the whereabouts of the royal jewels, which he had earlier pawned and pledged as security to help finance Mary's supporters' campaign. It is not known if he cracked, but it is known that he was paraded on a hay cart threw the streets of Edinburgh before being hung, drawn and quartered at the Mercy Cross.

James Mossman, like his grandfather before him, really did suffer for his art.

The Story of Scottish Art represents four years of toil for Glasgow-born Goudie, who is quick to point out that the book his personal take on the history of Scottish art, artists and makers. He is acutely aware that some critics might be quick to point out omissions. "I had to allow my own instincts to guide me when it came to the art and the artists I wrote about," he explains. "When I am not so interested in a thing, I don't write so enthusiastically and I'm always at pains to say I'm an academic. Writing this book has been a persistent learning exercise. I had to go with the gut when it came to an object which caught my attention. This was more of a problem in the latter half of the book. In the first half, from the Stone Age onwards, the art was not so well discovered.

"There is a snobbery in art world and art education. Writing this book allowed me to try to use language that is accessible; to make stories about artists exciting. To readers who might not normally give a hoot about Scottish art. It allows us to pay attention to schools of local creativity. The whole point to make it as relevant for someone in South Africa as Aberdeen. Art is only effective if it embroiders its way into imagination."

The Story of Scottish Art by Lachlan Goudie will be published by Thames & Hudson on 3 September, £29.95


The Westray Venus/Wifey

5,000-year-old figurine discovered in the Links of Noltland on the Orkney island of Westray

This 41mm high sandstone figurine, which was uncovered on a beach by an archaeologist during a dig in 2009 on Westray on the north west coast of the Orkney archipelago, dates back to the Neolithic Period. Quickly dubbed, The Westray Wifey, by locals, it is deemed to be the oldest piece of figurative art in Scotland and that blows my mind. Since her discovery, the Wifey has been rechristened 'the Orkney Venus'.Two round marks etched into her chest have been interpreted as breasts, sparking comparisons with the ancient fertility figurines of Ancient Greece.

St Marnock's Church, Fowlis Easter, Fife

Pre-Reformation oak board paintings of the Crucifixion

There has been a church in Fowlis Easter since 1180 and today St Marnock's looks unprepossessing, like a grey stone barn. But the painting of the Crucifixion inside is one of only two surviving pre-Reformation crucifixion paintings in Scotland – and if you look closely at the painting you understand why that is. The brutality in the scene is matched by an assault on the image itself. Some panels bear scars; there are holes left by nails driven into the wood. Throughout the kirk, there are other signs of damage: sculptures of angels with their faces smashed, saints decapitated.

Edwin Landseer

The Monarch of the Glen, 1851

Edwin Landseer was an Englishman but in his most celebrated work, Monarch of the Glen, he was creating within a Scottish context. Depicting a stag emerging from the heather, there has never been a more potent evocation of Scotland; it's right up there with bagpipes, tartan and a mouthful of shortbread. But few other canvases have provoked such conflicting emotions in the psyche of a nation. Some see it today as an example of cultural colonialism, a myth imposed by an Englishman that obscures Scotland's authentic identity. The Monarch is a canvas with a complicated pedigree, but images like this, painted beautifully and cleverly composed to both seduce and dominate the viewer, helped turn Scotland into a blockbuster.

Arthur Melville

Dancers at the Moulin Rouge, 1889

A detail from Arthur Melville's Dancers at the Moulin Rouge is on the front cover of The Story of Scottish Art. And with good reason. Melville was not an abstract painter, but he was an artist who knew when to trust the unconscious gestures his hands performed in the blink of an eye. In one heady night at the Moulin Rouge in 1889, Melville simply allowed colour to pour from his brush. This led to an image where three overlapping pools of pigment spill and ripple into each other, this way then that. It is deliriously joyful.

JD Ferguson

Les Eus, c. 1910

When a 40-year-old John Duncan Fergusson met a young dancer called Margaret Morris in his studio in Paris in 1913, they embarked on a passionate relationship which lasted a lifetime. Morris, a dancer trained in the techniques of Isadora Duncan – an unconventional dancing style based on movements derived from ancient Greek art – became both his lover and his muse. When he met Morris, Fergusson had been struggling with a vast canvas depicting a dance. The composition which became Les Eus (an invented word meaning "the healthy ones") is charged with radical new ideas about colour, line and abstraction – a homage to the power and eroticism of the human form. It established Fergusson as an avant-garde artist.

Alan Davie

Sacrifice, 1956

Grangemouth-born Alan Davie (1920-2014) used art to funnel ferocious feeling. An artist whose work trembles on the edge of abstraction, he once said: "I want to produce art that just happens…like falling in love." Although what "happened" on his canvases throughout the 1950s had parallels with the work of another Scottish artist, William Gear, it was not the angst-ridden art of Parisian existentialism. Something much more unhinged was going on in paintings like Sacrifice, three metres of disembowelled symbols with a pulsing, pagan undercurrent.

Joan Eardley

Two Children, 1963

Seeing Joan Eardley's work as a child at Kelvingrove Art Gallery gave me an instant connection. It was hard to choose which work I would pick out of all her paintings. It was a tie between The Wave, a seascape she painted in Catterline, and Two Children, a late unfinished work when she died in 1963 at the age of 42. All her works have so much soul.