Archibald Kay was born in Glasgow on 4th September 1860. His father did not want him to become an artist so Kay joined the office of the family business of Peterson and Co., produce brokers in Glasgow, at the age of 14. He soon switched to teaching art at a school on the south side of Glasgow for a period of 18 years before becoming an artist. While teaching, he spent his free time studying at the Glasgow School of Art under his principal teacher Robert Greenlees. By 1882 Kay was living at 294 St Vincent Street with his studio in West Regent Street, both close to the Glasgow Art Club in Bath Street. In 1882 he moved his studio to 120 Mains Street, off Bath Street, and was there until 1891. This studio subsequently became the home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh from 1900 to 1906, with the entrance on Blythswood Street. His address in 1883 was Glengair House, with the address 'Lenzie Junction'.
In 1892 Kay was admitted to the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW). That year he began living in 304 Bath Street with his studio now at 81 St Vincent Street. While living there he married Mary Margaret Thomson and their son Archibald was born in 1895. Soon afterwards they moved to Ruthven Street and the studio was situated at 136 Wellington Street. The census of 1901 records them as living at 11 Berkeley Terrace.
By 1903 Kay was selecting paintings in London and Paris for display in Glasgow and his works were well known in France, Germany and Italy. In Venice, he sold paintings to the His Majesty the King of Italy, the Italian Government and the Governor of Verona. He was invited by the Royal Commission in 1904 to send two pictures to the International Exhibition in St Louis and in 1906 to Christchurch, New Zealand.
In 1904 he shifted his Glasgow studio to 259 Sauchiehall Street and became the proprietor of part of Lower Woodend in Kilmahog (initially perhaps simply for studio purposes) while the family moved in as tenants down the road at Somerled. He was elected President of the Glasgow Art Club for 1904–1905, became an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1916 and a full member in 1930.
Kay lived in Kilmahog near Callander for 20 years, right by the River Leny, even renting an island in midstream. Tragedy struck when the family were holidaying at Port Appin and their only son died in a drowning accident which also took the life of Kay’s cousin, George Whitelaw. Thereafter Kay became leader of the Callander Boys’ Brigade and designed the community’s war memorial.
Archibald Kay produced at least 500 paintings over his lifetime, mostly in oil. There are few portraits or impressionistic works; his forte was landscape paintings portraying the changing moods of the Trossachs, especially autumn and winter landscapes featuring fast-flowing water. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts.
Towards the end of his life, he painted a suite of five works featuring the roadstone quarry at Furnace on the shores of Loch Fyne, Argyll, all in public hands. These immortalise the heroic scale of the quarry operation which supplied roadstone for the Glasgow tramways, including depictions of the men who worked there and the quarry plant.
As a widower, late in life, Kay moved back to the west end of Glasgow, remarried to Margaret Moir. He died at home at 16 Kensington Gate on 6th September 1935.
Text source: George Farrow