The artist was born in Lesmahagow near Lanark and was the son of a grocer. After displaying a talent for drawing, he became an architect’s apprentice before persuading his father to allow him to enrol at the Glasgow School of Art.
He later studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he became familiar with social realism and en plein air painting. After moving to the village of Pittenweem near Anstruther on the Firth of Forth in 1904, he produced a significant body of work depicting the coast, boats and local fishing community.
First up at the Glasgow auction on September 18 was Fisher Girl, a 2ft 6in x 2ft 1in (76 x 63cm) signed oil on canvas. Estimated at £2500-3500, it caught the eye of a number of bidders and took £3800, a solid mid-range sum for McGhie.
A few lots later came a scene of a Dutch fishing harbour, a 2ft 4in x 3ft (71 x 91cm) signed oil on canvas showing figures on a jetty. Guided at £1500-2500, it sold on top estimate.
Meanwhile, earlier in the month at Great Western Auctions, a mystery portrait of a Scottish nobleman generated a stiff competition despite obvious condition issues. Modestly estimated at £200-300, the 2ft 5in x 2ft (75 x 61cm) oil on canvas was covered with a film of ‘hazy’ bloom that obscured the sitter’s features.
However, a number of dealers saw something of quality in it and Duncan Wood of Anthony Woodd Gallery in Edinburgh competed with bidders from the London trade at the September 5 antiques and collectables sale. The picture was knocked down at £3400.
Wood said the painting “apparently came from a West Coast family of repute”. He added: “Pre-restoration speculation suggests that it is painted in the manner of Pompeo Batoni (1708-87) dating from c.1760 and may be a portrait of one of the Campbells of Argyll.
“The gentleman appears to be pointing proudly towards his estate.”
Following Wood’s success at the auction, he has agreed to sell the picture to an “important American private collector in the UK” for a five-figure sum, including a newly added c.1760s frame.