James Cowie (16 May 1886 – 18 April 1956) was a Scottish painter and teacher, known for his linear style and meticulous attention to composition. He originally studied English Literature at university, worked briefly as a school teacher, then quit to enroll at Glasgow School of Art where he obtained his degree in 1914. He immediately began teaching art, though this was disrupted by the first World War. Cowie was a conscientious objector but was in the Non-Combatant Corps during the war, resuming his teaching career at the war's close.
Cowie took an art teaching position at Hospitalfield House in the 1930's, and the painting above (considered unfinished) was from this period. Cowie was able to lead summer classes for students at this art college and art center known for its beautiful architecture and gardens, and this painting appears to be set in the grounds of the art school. Due to its large size and complex composition it was probably mainly worked on in the studio.
While the artist exhibited his work regularly in group art shows, he did not have his first solo exhibition until he was nearly 50 years old, at the Mclellan Galleries in Glasgow. He seems to have been a dedicated and sought-after art teacher, while also working consistently on his own paintings and drawings. This is a difficult balance to achieve so he deserves a lot of respect for how he managed his working life. He had many students who went on to achieve considerable notice, including Joan Eardley.
How did I hear about James Cowie? I am reading a novel by Alexander McCall Smith, The Geometry of Holding Hands, and in it two of the characters briefly discuss a painting by Cowie. Intrigued, I immediately googled the artist and realized that I'd seen some of his work in person (I spent a year living in Scotland many years ago) and also that he had created several pieces that fit the criteria of this blog! What a great find. Thank you Mr. McCall Smith!