McTaggart evolved the perfect working pattern; periods in Edinburgh producing large oils were followed by summers on the coast painting in the open by the sea, in Carnoustie in spring and early summer and moving to Machrihanish from August to October. His landscapes are most distinctly and essentially of the open air, depicting wide beaches and seas and deep horizons. His seascapes are rarely unpeopled and the occupants are usually children, often the artist's own children. We have access to the simple delight of the moment, the innocence of childhood.
The son of a crofter, McTaggart was born in Aros in Kintyre. After studying at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh, McTaggart supported himself by accepting portrait commissions. As soon as he felt financially secure he turned his attention to landscapes and seascapes, becoming one of Scotland's most outstanding and innovative landscape painters. His technique was quite unique at that time in its freedom of expression. He had always drawn out of doors, executing heavily annotated sketches for later oils, however in the 1870s he began to make finished watercolours out of doors and this was to have a direct impact on his oil painting. The lively fluid brushstrokes directly convey the choppy seas and swirling eddies around the rocks.
James Caw (op. cit., p. 74) describes Caught in the Tide as 'fresh and atmospheric', probably one of a group of delightful paintings produced by the artist in the summer of 1880. The artist wrote in a letter that summer, 'We have been down here since the first of Augt [sic] and the weather has been charming ... between the beauty of the sea-shore and the beauty of the Harvest fields - how happy could we be with either - its very distracting' (see L. Errington, William McTaggart 1835-1910, National Gallery of Scotland Exhibition Catalogue, 1989, p. 57). The spontaneous execution conveys the expectation and delight in the children's faces as they play, completely at home in their environment. Duncan Macmillan sums up, 'He responds immediately to experience with action and his painting becomes gesture' (see D. Macmillan, Scottish Art, Edinburgh, 2000, p. 252).