· France, Private Collection
A Scottish landscape painter, Woolnoth studied at the Royal Scottish Academy School in Edinburg. Although he had also worked in oils, most of his work was in watercolors, a technique which made it possible for the artist to render the misty atmosphere of his native Scotland very precisely and was highly valued by collectors of British art. In 1876, Woolnoth was one of the founding members of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours and henceforth signed his works Woolnoth R.S.W. The artist participated in all of the RSW exhibitions, starting with the first one in 1879. He also regularly exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy and at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.
Our landscape is characteristic of the painter’s thematic and style, not to mention care which he liked to give to even the slightest details. Very large, as are most of Woolnoth’s pictures, this is a completed work and not a sketch done on the spot. Nonetheless, the site depicted is without question identifiable and its topography relies on open-air on-site studies. It consists of a rocky valley in the Highlands, probably in the vicinity of Loch Goil which Woolnoth painted many times. The artist knew how to get the best from watercolor and gouache in order to transcribe the density of the clouds, the frost covering the hills, the reflections in the frozen water, the roughness of the stone. The brushstroke is often visible and the color range very reduced, built on contrasts between mineral grey, ochre of the sandy ground, and the emerald green of the stark vegetation which tends nonetheless to dominate the landscape. It is completely the opposite of Gustave Doré’s watercolor from the same period: the French artist who discovered Scotland during his travels in 1873 found instead a Highlands nature which was dark and mysterious, and even hostile to mankind.