The donor of the above painting was Louisa Ellen Perman. Louisa Perman was born in Eastwood and died in Helensburgh. The painting, donated after her death by her trustees, is the portrait, “Kitty”. The portrait was the work of her husband, James Torrance (1859 – 1916). Her trustees were instructed to donate ‘all pictures and drawings to such of the principal art galleries in any part of the world as they think proper.’ An offer was made to Glasgow Corporation, who accepted the painting of Kitty by James Torrance and six wash drawings for his book illustrations. (1)
Louisa Perman and James Torrance were working artists, their story one of two people who lived and worked within their artistic and social communities and who made a contribution to the artistic life of Scotland. Their work provided them with a living, but some have argued that their contribution to Scottish art was underestimated.
Louisa Perman studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1884 until 1890. She was a noted painter of flowers, often exhibiting with artists such as Jessie Algie, Jessie M. King and Margaret Muir. Caw compares Perman favourably to Stuart Park, a flower painter associated with the Glasgow boys: ‘her pictures evoke much of the feeling which has been indicated as wanting in his’ (2) ( Caw p.450) She was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Scottish Academy between 1885 and 1920. (3) In 1908, her painting White Roses was bought by the Luxembourg in Paris. (4)
She was a member of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Lady Artists’ Club and was serving as Vice-President of the Club at the time of her death in 1921. (5) The Dictionary of Scottish Art and Architecture describes Louisa Perman as ‘an underestimated painter whose true qualities are only now beginning to be recognised.’ (6) Although she may have been underestimated in Scotland, her work was widely shown in Europe: Munich, Berlin, Dresden and Prague, to name but a few.
Louisa Perman’s husband was James Torrance who was born in Glasgow in 1859 and was an illustrator and artist.
Torrance worked for some time in London as a book illustrator and a portrait painter. He illustrated fairy stories for children, including Sir James Douglas’ ‘Scottish Fairy Tales and Folk Tales‘ Some of the original illustrations for this work are held in the Victoria and Albert in London, the National Gallery of Scotland and others are held in Glasgow Museums’ collections. Torrance also illustrated the works of the American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne (7) and a book of Folk and Fairy Tales by W. B. Yeats. (8)
James Caw described Torrance thus: ‘although his work is never seen in the exhibitions and his name is practically unknown outside a very limited circle in Glasgow and the west, Mr James Torrance is one of the most vital painters of the younger generation.’ (9)
Torrance and Perman had a long engagement. They did not marry until 1912, by which time she was 58. She had received a legacy which enabled her to buy a house in Helensburgh. The house was called ‘The Glen’ and both artists had studios there. His was above the coach house, hers was in the garden. In later years, her studio became the meeting place of the Helensburgh and District Art Club, which was formed in 1951. Both artists were involved in staging an art exhibition in Glasgow in 1916, the proceeds of which were to relieve cases of hardship arising from the First World War. Torrance died in 1916.
Helensburgh has had a strong artistic community over many years. Neil Munro described it as ‘Painters too have favoured it; there is no Helensburgh School it is true, but studios hide among its flowers, and an infinite number of pictures have been inspired by the hills, shores and sylvan lanes of its neighbourhood’ (10) The obituaries written in the local newspaper for both artists suggest that they became valued members of the Helensburgh community. (11)
As well as the bequest to Glasgow museums, Louisa Perman left a brass Buddha and her drawing room piano to the Glasgow and West of Scotland Lady Artists’ Club. A note in the minutes of the Club details the Buddha being brought to the Club by one of the members, with the piano to be delivered later. (12) She also left a sum for the upkeep of her husband’s grave in Faslane Cemetery.
After Torrance’s death, Louisa Perman left a sum of money in memory of her husband, the interest on which was ‘to be awarded to a person, not being a member or associate of any Royal Art Society exhibiting, as his or her own work, a painting in oil or water colour of high artistic merit at the annual exhibition of the Royal Glasgow Fine Art Institute. The judges were to be three professional painters appointed annually, one from the council of the RGI, one from the council of Glasgow Art Club and one from the Council of the Glasgow Lady Artists Club.’ The prize is awarded to the present day.
(1) Glasgow Corporation Minutes 02.09.1921
(2) CAW, James L, 1908: Scottish Painting Past and Present 1620 – 1908: London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 16 Henrietta Street London
(3) RSA Exhibitors 1826-1990 (Mitchell Library)
(4) CAW, James , 1908.: Scottish Painting Past and Present 1620 – 1908: London: T.C. & E.C. Jack 16 Henrietta Street London
(5) Archive Material on Glasgow and West of Scotland Lady Artists’ club (Mitchell Library)
(6) McEWAN, Peter J.M. (2004): Dictionary of Scottish Art and Architecture: Ballater, Aberdeenshire: Glengarden Press
(7) www.nationalgalleries.org/es/art-and-artists/79093/james-torrance accessed 6.10.2021
(8) YEATS W.B. (1893): Irish Folk and Fairy Tales: London: Scott N.D.
(9) CAW, James L, (1908): Scottish Painting Past and Present 1620 – 1908: London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 16 Henrietta Street London. p.430.
(10) MUNRO, Neil (1907): The Clyde, River and Firth: London: Adam and Charles Black
(11) Helensburgh and Gareloch Times: 8 March 1916; 9 March 1921
(12) Archive Material on Glasgow and West of Scotland Lady Artists’ club (Mitchell Library)
Century of Art Exhibition 1835-1935 (Mitchell Library)
Reference Library, Helensburgh Library
Some Helensburgh Artists and their Studios: Ailsa Tanner