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Kirkcudbright artist colony

"The Artists' Town"

For more than a century, artists have been inspired by Kirkcudbright's
striking palette of natural and manmade beauty.

BY JIM GILCHRIST

Wandering around the 18th- and 19th-century streets in the old heart of Kirkcudbright, with their white and pastel painted houses and beckoning closes, or alleyways, revealing flower baskets, ferny corners, rusting bicycles and other curios, you might be forgiven for thinking they'd make a pretty painting. Similarly, stroll down to the town's riverside harbour nearby and look beyond the moored scallop dredgers to where cattle are drinking on the far side of the Dee, and they look straight out of a pastoral canvas.

You'd be right on both counts, for this historic county town and fishing port, set deep in southwest Scotland's Galloway region, became famous as an artists' colony during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, it promotes itself once again as "The Artists' Town," with resident and visiting artists, professional and otherwise, succumbing to the allure of its picturesque townscape and its surrounding countryside and the Solway coast rolling under big Galloway skies.

To tap into the core of the artists' town as it was in its early 20th-century heyday, we take a walk along that oddly L-shaped High Street, where at number 46 you'll see the attractively painted house called Greengate, now a bed and breakfast establishment, but once the home of illustrator Jessie M. King and her husband, Ernest Taylor, also an accomplished artist, who were pivotal figures in the town's creative community. King cut a flamboyant figure, cycling about the town in voluminous black cloak and broad-brimmed hat, earning her the nickname of the "witch on a bicycle," and supposedly communing with fairies at the bottom of her garden. There were certainly creative spirits at the bottom of her garden, as she and Ernest rented properties in the adjoining close to other artists.

Just a few doors along, you can visit what was the very hub of that community, Broughton House, a converted 18th-century townhouse, which in 1901 became the home of E. A. Hornel, who extended it significantly, creating an imposing studio and showcase for his paintings. Today, in the care of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), Broughton House remains a still vivid memorial to the artist, who died in 1933, particularly its extravagant, wood-panelled gallery, its cornice molding cast from the famous Parthenon frieze in the British Museum, while Hornel's thickly impastoed paintings still glow from the walls and from easels in the adjoining studio.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2012 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photo of E. A. Hornel © ScotlandsImages.com/National Trust for Scotland; Photo of close © P. Tomkins / VisitScotland / Scottish Viewpoint