The Chalk Cutting
© Photography by Andrew Smart

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The Chalk Cutting 1898
  • Scottish Art
Painted in London in 1898 during the artist’s last decade, this stunning composition reveals Melville to have been the most forward-looking and inventive of all the painters associated with the Glasgow School. By the 1890s he was highly regarded for the technical brilliance of his watercolours, some characterised by a truly exceptional modernity. Here he displays a similar capacity for avant-garde innovation in oils. Although executed on an exhibition-scale canvas, the picture was not shown publicly in the artist’s lifetime, perhaps because of this extreme experimentalism.

Glossary Open

Avant garde

Cultural practices that challenge tradition through experimentation and innovation. Originally a military term, in art it is particularly associated with the late 19th and 20th centuries.


The arrangement of different elements in a work of art.

Glasgow Boys

A loose grouping of painters working in Glasgow in the late 19th century. Though there was no overall style or formal membership, they did exhibit together and shared an interest in rural scenes. Artists included John Lavery, Joseph Crawhall and James Guthrie.


A paint with colouring and binding agents diluted with water. It has a transparent quality and is usually applied to paper.

Avant garde, Composition, Glasgow Boys, Watercolour


  • Acc. No. NG 2870
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Size 85.10 x 92.80 cm (framed: 113.20 x 120.40 x 3.00 cm)
  • Credit Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund and the Patrons of the National Galleries of Scotland, 2013