A Scottish Colourist Staycation

Can’t go away for a Spring break because of you know what? Let’s go on a Scottish Colourist staycation instead!

The four painters, F. C. B. Cadell (1883-1937), J. D. Fergusson (1874-1961), G. L. Hunter (1879-1931) and S. J. Peploe (1871-1935), are Scotland’s most celebrated twentieth-century artists. They shared first-hand exposure to developments in modern French art, a love of brilliant colour and a web of friendship. Their work was shown together in group exhibitions in London and Paris during their lifetimes. The name ‘Scottish Colourists‘ was coined in 1948 as a way to define them as a quartet and has been used ever since.

Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935), Kirkcudbright, late 1920s, oil on canvas
The Fleming Collection, London

To Dumfries and Galloway with Peploe

Peploe takes us to Dumfries and Galloway in south-west Scotland in his Kirkcudbright of the late 1920s. He was born in Edinburgh in 1871 and trained at the Académie Julian in Paris and at the Royal Scottish Academy Life School in the Scottish capital. Having established a successful career in his home city, Peploe joined Fergusson in Paris, where he lived between 1910 and 1912. He lived in Edinburgh for the rest of his life, had regular solo exhibitions and was elected a full member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1927.

Kirkcudbright, late 1920s

Peploe made several painting trips to Kirkcudbright between 1915 and 1931, where his friends the artists Jessie M. King (1875-1949) and E. A. Taylor (1874-1951) had settled. It is a harbour town on the Solway Coast which has had a thriving creative community since the nineteenth-century.

In this panoramic painting of the late 1920s, Peploe depicts the scenic town set amidst its rural surruondings. The view is to the west across Dee towards Borgue. The back of Millburn Street, the parish church, Sheriff Court and Town Hall can all be seen. Peploe concentrates on the geometrical structure of the architecture, without going into great detail. This approach reveals a considered knowledge of the Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), whose works Peploe was able to see whilst living in France. The palette is low-toned and the brushstrokes are deft in this dignified homage to a place which Peploe knew well.

The Fleming Collection

Kirkcudbright is in the Fleming Collection, which ‘furthers an understanding and awareness of Scottish art and creativity through exhibitions, events, publishing and education with an emphasis placed on initiatives outside Scotland’. There are more than 600 works in the collection, dating from the seventeenth-century to the present day.

John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961), In Glen Isla, 1923, oil on canvas
University of Stirling (c) Perth & Kinross Council

To Angus with Fergusson

We can join Fergusson’s motoring tour of the Highlands in 1922 via In Glen Isla of the following year. Fergusson was born in Leith, near Edinburgh. Apart from sporadic attendance at the Académies Colarossi and Julian in Paris, he was self-taught. Two years after moving to the French capital in 1907, Fergusson was elected a sociétaire of the avant-garde exhibiting society the Salon d’Automne. This was in recognition of the ground-breaking nature of his work of the period. On the outbreak of World War One, Fergusson settled in London, before spending the 1930s in Paris. World War Two prompted a move to Glasgow, where he lived for the rest of his life.

In Glen Isla, 1923

In 1922 and again in 1928, Fergusson explored the Highlands by car, with his friend, the businessman and writer John Ressich (1878-1937). The first trip inspired six months of intense painting once back in his London studio. The resultant works were exhibited in Fergusson’s first solo exhibition in Scotland, held in 1923 at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh and then at La Société des Beaux-Arts in Glasgow.

This painting is an energetic rendering of the titular glen. It is the most westerly of the Angus glens and the only one which can be driven through. Existing between abstract pattern and geological celebration of a majestic landscape, it is a vivid evocation of countryside and weather. Sunshine breaks through clouds with a presence as strong as the distant hills, to highlight fields amidst the forestry below. Fergusson’s exhilaration to be back in his home country is clear, in a work whose simplification of form and blunt technique makes it exceptional within Scottish landscape painting.

University of Stirling

In Glen Isla is one of fourteen paintings by Fergusson which his partner, the dance pioneer Margaret Morris (1891-1980) presented to the University of Stirling in 1968, through the J. D. Fergusson Art Foundation which she established on his death in 1961. In 1991, the Foundation gave a large collection of Fergusson’s work to Perth & Kinross Council, which forms the nucleus of the dedicated Fergusson Gallery in Perth.

George Leslie Hunter (1879-1931), Houseboats, Loch Lomond, 1931, oil on canvas
Glasgow Museums

To Loch Lomond with Hunter

Enjoy a stay aboard a houseboat in Loch Lomond, as Hunter did in the summer of 1931. He was born in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute and emigrated as a teenager to California. He began his career in San Franciscso as an illustrator, whilst contributing to group exhibitions. His studio and its contents were destroyed by an earthquake in 1906, just before his first solo exhibition was due to open. Thereafter, Hunter’s base was in Glasgow, to where his family had moved, though he spent extended periods living and working elsewhere including in France and Fife. He showed with The Scottish Gallery and La Société des Beaux-Arts and had a solo exhibition in New York in 1929, two years before his death in Glasgow.

Houseboats, Loch Lomond, 1931

This painting comes from a series which Hunter made in 1931 of Loch Lomond, north-west of Glasgow, following a previous stay in 1924. As was his custom, Hunter made numerous sketches of the area, his eye stimulated by the picturesque setting, brightly-painted boats moored at the water’s edge and their reflections in the water.

In this instance, Hunter is positioned on the bank with the impressive houseboat, seen above and within the loch, the centre of his attention. Beyond it a stretch of water and procession of vessels are visible, as is the modest hill rising away from the far side. An assured composition is realised with a generous range of colour, whilst a sensitivity to detail is combined with more expansive passages. Peploe compared these paintings favourably to works by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), whom Hunter admired.

Glasgow Museums

Houseboats, Loch Lomond was bequeathed to Glasgow Museums by the ship-owner William McInnes (1868-1944) in 1944. It was one of over 70 paintings in the bequest, which numbered some 700 items including glassware, ceramics and silver. Hunter painted McInnes’s portrait in about 1930, which was purchased by Glasgow Museums in 1985.

Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937), Ben More in the Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides, 1920s, oil on canvas
Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

To the Hebrides with Cadell

We conclude our Scottish Colourists staycation with a trip to the Hebrides with Cadell. He is the youngest of the group and was born in Edinburgh in 1883. At the age of sixteen, he moved to Paris to study at the Académie Julian; this was followed by attendance at the Academie der Bildenden Künste in Munich. In 1909 he moved into his first Scottish studio in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town.

Following service in World War One, Cadell achieved great success with his depictions of the lifestyle of the social elite of the Scottish capital, by way of its interiors to its sophisticated citizens to beautiful still lifes. However, his later career was marked by a decline not only in his health but also in his financial circumstances, not least due to the failing art market. He was elected a full member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1936, mere months before his death the following year.

Ben More in the Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides, 1920s

Cadell visited the Hebridean island of Iona for the first time in 1912. He subsequently spent most summers there, until at least 1933; from 1920 Peploe and his family often accompanied him. Both were drawn to the ever-changing light and weather conditions, the combination of sea, sky and land, its rock formations and plentiful views across and beyond the island.

This painting of the 1920s shows one of Cadell’s favourite views, from Iona across to Ben More on the neighbouring island of Mull. The lilac hues which are such a distinctive feature of his Edinburgh interiors are here used to convey the sparkling sunshine and its effect on the sea in the beach-edge shallows. The rocks which emerge from the white sand, amidst tufts of grass and the spread of sea weed, echo the grandeur of the barren and impressive Ben More across the sound.

Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

Ben More in the Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides was purchased directly from Cadell by Rochdale Art Gallery in 1932. It is believed to be the second painting of his to be acquired for an English public collection, following Manchester Art Gallery’s purchase of Interior with Figure of c.1914 in 1930.

Here’s hoping that we will be able to experience this Scottish Colourist staycation for real before too long. In the menatime, for more on Cadell and Peploe, you might like this feature and also this one, whilst Fergusson is included in this blog. If you are interested in depictions of the Scottish landscape and its islands, you might enjoy my forthcoming on-line paper ‘From Arran to the National Collection: Early Twentieth-Century Responses to the Island’s Landscape’. Information and a link to book free tickets can be found here.

2 Comments

  1. 12 April 2021 / 8:01 am

    Thank you. Love your work !

    I understand that Jessie M King and Ernest Taylor were in Paris at the same pre-war time and that is where they struck up a friendship with Peploe, and perhaps Fergusson also.

    Website being updated at present.

    • 12 April 2021 / 8:39 am

      You are absolutely right. I’d love to learn more about their time in Paris and the atelier they ran, but can’t find much about it. Will keep looking!

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