As September proceeds, there is a definite feel of Autumn in the air. Bessie MacNicol (1869-1904) captures the season’s warm sunshine and the turning of leaves from green to copper in Autumn of about 1898.
MacNicol was born in Glasgow and studied at Glasgow School of Art and the Académie Colarossi in Paris. She established a studio at 175 St Vincent Street, in the centre of Glasgow in 1896 and had a solo exhibition – at a time when such ventures were rare – at Stephen Gooden’s Art Rooms nearby in 1899. MacNicol’s work was also exhibited abroad, from Gent to St Louis. Her premature death aged thirty-five was caused by complications during pregnancy.
Autumn comes from a celebrated series of paintings of young women and girls posed underneath foliage and on whom dappled sunshine falls. MacNicol skilfully applied paint in obvious brushstrokes to create passages of illumination. A complexity of pattern in the sitter’s bodice competes with that of the leaves above and behind her. Her gaze is as confident as the artist’s technique. Texture, highlights, shadow, deep and shallow perspective all enliven the canvas. A peaceful image celebrates natural beauty of the botanical as well as human form. Others works in the series can be found in the collections of Glasgow Life and Perth & Kinross Council.
In Autumn, Kinnordy of 1936, James McIntosh Patrick (1907-98) presents an expansive view of the countryside in the height of the season. McIntosh Patrick was born in Dundee and studied at Glasgow School of Art. He first made his name as an etcher, but after the Great Depression emerged as a successful painter. Based on a watercolour made on the spot, Autumn, Kinnordy shows the view from Castle Hill, Kinnordy in Angus towards Laurencekirk in Kincardineshire.
McIntosh Patrick painstakingly detailed the agricultural scene before him. The farmers in the foreground walk uphill, away from a cluster of farm buildings. They are accompanied by stooks of recently harvested corn and washing hung up to dry. Trees beginning to lose their leaves mark the march of fields away to the distant hills. Above everything is a sky of mixed clouds, through which patches of bright blue can be glimpsed.
Autumn, Kinnordy was presented to the city of Dundee in 1946 by Mrs Charles Lyell in memory of Captain the Honourable Charles Anthony, Lord Lyell of Kinnordy and the men of the Scottish Regiments and RAF who died during World War Two. It is the third in the artist’s Four Seasons series; the others are Winter in Angus, 1935 in the Tate, Springtime in Eskdale, 1935 in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and Midsummer in East Fife, 1936 in Aberdeen Art Gallery.
Charles Neville Bertram (1908-99) presents a sculptural image of the season in his Autumn of the 1930s. Born in Cullercoats, Northumberland, he studied at Durham University. After working with the sculptor Herbert Tyson Smith (1883-1972) in Liverpool, Bertram taught at Liverpool School of Art for over twenty years. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1950.
Autumn is a fine example of British Art Deco carving. It depicts Demeter, Greek goddess of agriculture. She is seen in profile, looking to the viewer’s right. She carries a sheaf of newly gathered corn, presumably cut with the scythe held in her right hand. The direction of her step, towards our left, is emphasised by the rabbit bounding at her feet. The mannered pose, broad handling combined with fine detail, simplified form and shallow relief create a sophisticated, rhythmic sculpture. Further views of it can be seen here.
A very different Autumn is in the air in Autumn Landscape by William Gear (1915-97). It is a work of rigorous abstraction, albeit rooted in nature. Gear was born in Methill, Fife. He trained at Edinburgh College of Art and under Fernand Léger (1881-1955) in Paris. After serving in World War Two, Gear returned to the French capital in 1947. He became involved with the CoBrA group of artists, from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, sharing their interest in abstraction and primitivism.
In 1950, Gear was one of a number of artists invited by the Arts Council of Great Britain to make a painting on a canvas sized 183 x 127cm, to be shown in an exhibition as part of the Festival of Britain. The resultant Autumn Landscape is based on an autumnal palette of brown, orange and yellow. Firm black outlines contain jagged elements which dart and thrust across the surface, with hints of branches, leaves and patchy sunshine. It was one of five paintings included in the exhibition which were subsequently purchased by the Arts Council for £500 each. The acquisition of the Gear proved controversial, not least given the use of public funds to buy a non-figurative work; the matter was even debated in parliament. The Arts Council presented the painting to the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle in 1952.
If you’d like to learn more about modern Scottish women artists, you might enjoy this post. If you’d like to learn more about the modern Scottish art in the Laing Art Gallery and in Dundee Art Galleries, then you can here and here.