Steeped in place : encountering Scotland in paintings of the sea

  • Joseph James Boyd

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Art is analysed and understood most often in terms of who (the artist was) and when (the work was created). Where (the creative act occurred) is seldom considered as significant. However, human understanding of the world depends on spatiality as well as temporality. This thesis investigates spatiality in paintings of Scotland’s sea and coast.

The purpose of the research was threefold: firstly, to develop a conceptual framework of spatiality that could describe any painting; secondly to develop a suite of methods that situated painter, painting and geography; thirdly to apply the framework and methodology to the Scottish paintings of one artist, American Jon Schueler.
Three spatial concepts for analysing the Scottishness of paintings of the sea were characterised: space, place and scape. Interviews with six contemporary painters revealed geography’s phenomenological underpinning.

With paintings by Joan Eardley and William McTaggart, methods were developed to situate any artwork. These included well-proven visual analysis techniques, augmented by an original programme that extracted a colour palette from the painting’s image. With works by Janette Kerr and Will Maclean, methods were established to situate the artist. These included identifying which facets of place were incorporated into each painting, and how the artist’s discourse revealed a spatial understanding. Finally, McTaggart paintings were explored to situate their geography. This included using site visits to interpret a painting and compiling deep maps to compare and contrast the spatiality of paintings of Eastern Carnoustie with Western Machrihanish.

The concepts and methodology were then employed to scrutinise the complete inventory of Jon Schueler’s extant works. By situating paintings, artist and the geography of Mallaig using the developed methodology, Schueler was demonstrated to be strongly influenced by spatiality. The unique configuration of a Scottish place illuminated and clarified what he perceived in nature and how he responded to it. The case study suggested that with a sense of place, a painting of the sea provides an encounter with Scotland.
Date of Award29 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJeremy Charles Howard (Supervisor) & John Morrison (Supervisor)


  • Place
  • Space
  • Spatiality in paintings
  • Paintings of Scotland's sea and coast
  • Scottish art
  • Jon Schueler
  • Conceptual framework for spatiality in paintings
  • Methods to situate painting, painter and geography
  • Geography of art
  • Seascape

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