THE artist whose chief work has been to see and set on record the glory of the busy shipping reaches of the Clyde, was born on the shores of the river's estuary, at Lamlash, in 1858. The son of a naval man, he narrowly escaped being born in a revenue cutter at sea. His boyhood was spent in Arran, where ships and the sea were his life, and the smell of tarry ropes got into his blood. Then, as a young man in business in Glasgow, natural longings drew him to the Broomielaw. Like so many of the other distinguished painters of the West of Scotland, he received his education to pencil and brush at the Glasgow School of Art. He also studied closely from nature, and developed early so distinct a method of his own that when he asked the chief of the "Glasgow School," Mr. (now Sir James) Guthrie, whether he should proceed to study at Paris, he was advised not to do so, as it must merely dislocate his own style. In his early days he shared studios with two other aspirants, Mr. Stuart Park and Mr. David Gauld, and found his delight in the careful and conscientious study of the great river in all its aspects. His work was in a novel region, and presently it opened the eyes of the public to the poetry of a neglected field. His first picture in the Academy was hung in 1889, and his first in the Paris Salon in 1894. Since then he has annually had canvases there and in most of the important exhibitions of Britain and the Continent of Europe and America. In 1895 he was awarded honourable mention in La Libre Esthétique at Brussels. In 1903 his canvas, "Toil and Grime," a picture of shipping at the Kelvin's mouth, was awarded the silver medal and diploma of the Société des Amis des Arts at Rouen; and in the same year his "River of the North," a winter scene in the busy harbour of Glasgow, gained the highest honour a foreign artist can receive at the hands of the Salon jury and of France. It was awarded a gold medal, and was purchased for the Luxembourg collection. Since that date Mr. Kay has gained the following additional honours:- 1906, Gold Medal and Diploma at the 37th Exposition Municipale des Beaux Arts de Rouen, where his picture "Winter" was purchased for the Rouen Municipal Collection; 1907, picture "Launch of the Lusitania," purchased, in the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine arts, by the Corporation of Glasgow for the Municipal Collection.
Mr. Kay's work, however, does not deal exclusively with the harbour and the Clyde. He has painted Glasgow itself, with its tall buildings and long vistas of streets. In his "Highway of the Nations" and other canvases he has depicted the greater surging life on the bosom of the Thames; and still farther afield, in pictures like "The Armada" and "The Revenge," which attracted much attention at the Royal Academy in 1890, he has embodied the sea-romance of Elizabethan days. He is a member of the Glasgow Art Club, the United Arts Club, London, the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, and the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water Colours.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)