About this artwork

This portrait of 1882 is believed to be one of Guthrie’s first portrait commissions. It reveals his debt to James McNeill Whistler’s portraits from the 1870s that he had recently seen on display at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, particularly in the placement of the figure in the canvas and the use of an unidentified patterned background. His encounter with Whistler’s work was to have a lasting effect on Guthrie’s painting style. This portrait also reflects the contemporary fascination with Japanese prints. Margaret Helen Sowerby was the eldest daughter of J G Sowerby, Chairman of Sowerby’s Ellison Glassworks on Tyneside, the world’s largest producer of pressed glassware. It seems that Guthrie was introduced to Sowerby by his friend and fellow ‘Glasgow Boy’ Joseph Crawhall.

  • title: Margaret Helen Sowerby (known as Helen Sowerby)
  • accession number: NG 2700
  • artist: Sir James GuthrieScottish (1859 - 1930)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Painting
  • medium: Oil on canvas
  • date created: 1882
  • measurements: 161.00 x 61.20 cm (framed: 192.00 x 92.20 x 8.60 cm)
  • credit line: Purchased by Private Treaty Sale with the aid of the Art Fund, 1999
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve

Sir James Guthrie

Sir James Guthrie

Guthrie became one of the leading painters in the group of artists called the Glasgow Boys. His early works of rural subjects painted with broad square brush strokes show the strong influence of French painters such as Bastien-Lepage. Guthrie was born in Greenock and trained as a lawyer before turning to art. After brief but stimulating periods in London and Paris, he committed himself to painting directly from nature in Scotland. Guthrie also experimented with pastel drawings and established a reputation as a successful portrait painter. He became president of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1902 and was knighted the following year.