Everyday Beauty: The Windowsill

Whilst many of us are spending more time than usual at home, let’s try to find beauty in our everyday surroundings. Modern Scottish artists have been inspired in a variety of ways by that common architectural feature, the windowsill.

Anne Redpath (1895-1965), White Cyclamen, 1950s, oil on canvas
Scottish Borders Council (c) Artist’s Estate

Display and Growth

White Cyclamen of the 1950s by Anne Redpath (1895-1965) shows a view we are particularly familiar with at the moment: looking from the inside, through a window, to the outside. Redpath has used her sill in a traditional way, placing plants in attractive ceramic vessels on it. She therefore takes advantage of the display and growing opportunities offered by her sill.

Anne Redpath (1895-1965)

Redpath was born in Hawick in the Scottish Borders. She combined courses at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and the nearby Moray House College of Education. A year after completing her studies, she married the architect James Beattie Michie (1891-1960) and they moved to France. Whilst there, Redpath had three sons and continued to paint as domestic responsibilities allowed.

In 1934, she returned to Hawick with the boys and her career began to flourish, particularly after World War Two. By the time of her death in Edinburgh in 1965, she had become a highly-successful and critically acclaimed artist. Amongst her achievements were becoming the first female painter to be elected a full Member of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture (RSA) and being the first Scottish woman to be elected an Associate member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

White Cyclamen

The choice of houseplant and the blue, white and grey-based palette throughout White Cyclamen suggest that it was painted during the winter. The focus is on the cyclamen flowering in the foreground, who provide cheer during the coldest season when little else is growing. Their petals and leaves are tenderly depicted. Redpath provides multiple viewpoints which allow us to look into the bowl on the left, as well as a lower regard of the right-hand jug. Glimpses of further plants to both sides provide hints of the room at large, as the artist uses the extent of the window to frame her composition.

A View to the Street

Redpath’s view is of the basement area from house to steps which lead up to the street, in the background of this many layered image. A wooden door to the coal store can be seen to the left, whilst a picket gate and fence hint at the world beyond at the upper right. A gentle, modest painting of an ordinary scene is yet beautiful and comforting.

White Cyclamen was bequeathed to Selkirk High School, which is eighteen miles from Redpath’s birthplace of Hawick.

Hugh Adam Crawford (1898-1982), Good Morning, c.1931, oil on canvas
Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums (c) Artist’s Estate

Outside Looking Inside

In Good Morning of about 1931, Hugh Adam Crawford (1898-1982) shows us a view from the outside, looking over a windowsill into a domestic interior. This is something many of us see when walking along streets in the darkness of winter evenings.

Hugh Adam Crawford (1898-1982)

Crawford was born in Busby, Lanarkshire in 1898. He trained at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and in London at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and St Martin’s School of Art. He was Head of Drawing and Painting at GSA, before becoming Head of Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen. His final appointment was as Principal of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee. As a result, Crawford taught many of Scotland’s foremost artists of the twentieth-century, including Joan Eardley (1921-63), Merlyn Evans (1910-73) and the ‘Two Roberts’, Robert Colquhoun (1914-62) and Robert MacBryde (1913-66). In 1934, Crawford married the artist Kathleen Mann (1908-2000).

Good Morning

In this painting, Crawford uses a windowsill as a bridge between the public outside and the private inside. Once again, plants are in the foreground. This time they are in more workaday pots than in Redpath’s work, in order to withstand exposure on the external sill. They are being tended to by a standing woman, viewed half-length as the windowsill provides compositional structure.

Peaceful Horticulture

The titular time of day is made clear by the combination of shadow and first light which fall on to her face and top. Unaware of our gaze, the woman is absorbed in her task. Particular attention is paid to the depiction of her left hand, which emerges from an arm draped by a recently-opened curtain. They and the neatly-made bed glimpsed in the background suggest a succession of rituals with which the morning begins. The windowsill is the location of a rewarding moment of peaceful horticulture, before the day develops.

Good Morning was purchased by Aberdeen Archives, Gallery and Museums with income from the Macdonald Bequest in 1951. This was endowed by the granite merchant Alexander Macdonald (1837-84) for the purchase of art no more than twenty-five years old.

Charles James McCall (1907-89), Woman at the Window, 1965, oil on canvas
Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, Edinburgh (c) Artist’s Estate

A Place on Which to Lean

Woman at the Window of 1965 by Charles McCall (1907-89) reveals the view from the other side of a similar scene. In this instance, the windowsill is a place upon which to lean, leaving the domestic behind and providing access to the urban world beyond.

Charles McCall (1907-89)

McCall was born in Edinburgh. He trained at ECA and at the Académie Colarossi in Paris. In 1938 he was awarded a Fellowship at ECA before serving in World War Two. After the war, McCall established a studio in London where he lived for the rest of his life. He became a member of the New English Art Club and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. His international exhibiting career included solo shows in Dublin, Montreal and New York.

Woman at the Window

In this painting, McCall depicts a bedroom with an expressive technique which verges on the abstract, in passages such as the bedding seen tumbling to the floor. The composition leads us from the open expanse of the foreground, between furniture such as armchair and dressing-table, to the woman standing at the window admiring the view. She is seen as if seeking respite from housework, the messy bed awaiting her attention.

A Place to Daydream

Highlights of colour, from turquoise to red play a formal as well as descriptive role. The model has an equal status with the other features of the room. The design of her dress is part of the interchange between pattern, surface texture and the illusion of depth which runs throughout the work. The atmosphere is calm, as a moment’s daydream is enjoyed – and is made possible – at the windowsill.

Woman at the Window was purchased from the Artist in 1966, the year after it was painted, by the Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture, Edinburgh.

Frances Walker (b.1930), MV Lochiel Making for Scalasaig, 1959, oil on canvas
Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen (c) The Artist

Windowsill and Window Seat

Perhaps the ultimate windowsill is one accompanied by a window seat. This makes appreciating the beauty of the everyday even easier. In MV Lochiel Making for Scalasaig of 1959 by Frances Walker (b.1930), the windowseat is the crowning glory of a multi-paned window. This gives out on to a coastal view featuring the Islay mailboat, heading to the Isle of Colonsay.

Frances Walker (b.1930)

Walker was born in Kirkcaldy in 1930. She trained at ECA, Hospitalfield College of Art in Arbroath and Moray House. Walker was the Visiting Art Teacher for the schools in Harris and North Uist in the Western Isles between 1956 in 1958. She was then appointed Lecturer in Drawing and Painting at Gray’s School of Art. In 1980 Walker was elected a Member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours and three years later she became a full Member of the RSA. In 2009 she had a major solo exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery. Her 90th birthday in 2020 was a cause for celebration in the Scottish art world.

MV Lochiel Making for Scalasaig

In her painting, Walker positions the window seat at the lower edge of the composition, inviting the viewer to sit upon it. The asymmetrical composition sets the central window feature to one side. Cropped chairs and wall hangings are visible, as well as a picture within a picture, hung at the upper left. The wood-lined walls and window recess provide vertical and horizontal lines which are echoed by those on the cushions; they contrast with the wavy patterning of the wood with which the window seat is made.

Between Home and the Beach

The prominence of the gridded window frame is such that to see through it is to pass over the boundary from home to beach, sea and neighbouring island. The eye travels into the distance, with MV Lochiel framed in an upper pane. Its journey is the subject of the work’s title, if not the focus of the image. The windowsill plays a modest but important role. On it are displayed a selection of glass buoys, shells, driftwood and other natural objects. They are found outside and treasured inside as, once more, beauty is found in the everyday.

MV Lochiel Making for Scalasaig was purchased from the Artist by Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, where the artist has lived since 1958.

If you’d like to read more about Anne Redpath’s still lifes, you can do so here. For other bedroom interiors, read this blog and for further domestic interiors you might enjoy this feature. For more on making the most of simple pleasures, follow this link.

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