Alexander Goudie: Don Quixote of Glasgow artists
by Sir Timothy Clifford
The Independent, Thursday 18th March 2004
Alexander Goudie, painter and well kent Glasgow character, was powerfully handsome, honourable and outrageous, arrogant, vastly entertaining and cultured; a man who was driven by his art and quick to do battle, like a latter-day Don Quixote. He fought his agents, fought philistines, fought certain of his fellow artists and delighted to enter the lists against any aspects of what he considered the Establishment.
Sandy Goudie was born in 1933 at Paisley and, as a child, showed prodigious talent for drawing. He studied at Glasgow School of Art when William Armour was head of drawing and painting, and David Donaldson was the ubiquitous influence. Goudie, as a student at Glasgow, demonstrated his extraordinary ability.
He received the Somerville Shanks Prize for Composition and, later, his draughtsmanship and sense of colour was recognized with the award of the Newbery Medal. As a young artist he grew up admiring three great masters, Sir John Lavery, George Henry and James Guthrie; all artists who had bridged the gap between Glasgow and Paris. It was these artists’ glorious virtuoso control of oil paint that appealed to Goudie, as well as their genre and realist subject-matter.
The Artist's Easel (c.2000
36x62 cm, Oil on board
For Goudie the exciting 20th-century developments in, for instance, Futurism, Vorticism, Cubism, abstraction held little attraction. A traveling post-graduate scholarship in 1953 introduced him to Paris where he fell in love with Courbet – especially his Burial at Ornans – and with Rodin’s sculptures in the Musee Rodin. Goudie was attracted to masterly but conventional art and went on to spend months in Toledo and Madrid studying Velazquez and El Greco, and was fascinated by their influence on later masters like Whistler and Monet.
At his best, Goudie could draw better than any of his rivals in Scotland and had the skill and eye to describe, as almost no one else could, the sweating flanks of a cart-horse, the toiling, foreshortened form of a Breton peasant, the sheen on silk velvet, or the glow on a pretty girl’s cheek. He fell more and more in love with France and married a delightful French girl, Marie-Renee (“Mainee”) Dorval in Brittany. She, and her native Brittany, were to become the lodestars of his art and life. He grew to love Gauguin more and more and he began to see the Brittany landscape, and the figures that inhabited it, through Gauguin’s eyes.
Goudie’s range was broad, combining great abilities as a ceramic artist, as a portraitist, and as pictorial raconteur. His Tam O’Shanter cycle of 54 paintings, which he showed at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1996, were an astonishing achievement and one that I still regret that the Scottish National Galleries did not buy. Happily they were acquired eventually for Alloway (where they may be seen at the Rozelle House Galleries).
Alexander Goudie was elected a member of the Glasgow Art Club in 1956 and a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 1970. He painted a portrait of the Queen for the Caledonian Club, London (1992/93), and exhibited widely, showing at Harari and Johns, in London, the Fine Art Society, Glasgow, and the Musee de la Faience, in Quimper.
One of the main problems for Sandy Goudie was that he was blessed with real talent (and he knew it), but painted in a style profoundly disliked by the contemporary arts establishment; he cultivated, through his confident, rather bombastic character, too many detractors. Like most artists he was uneven, but there was magic and vision in his art and, I expect, history will be kind to him.