The Art Class

Enter the world of the art class, alongside teachers and students, as they work at easels, contemplate still life objects and inspire each other’s creativity.

David Macbeth Sutherland (1883-1973), The Painting Student, 1920, oil on canvas
Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums (c) Artist’s Estate

David Macbeth Sutherland

David Macbeth Sutherland (1883-1973) was born in Wick, Caithness. He began his career training to be a lawyer. However, after moving to Edinburgh, he became a full-time student at the Royal Scottish Academy Life School. Sutherland was an original member of the ‘Edinburgh Group‘ of artists, including David Alison (1882-1955) and Eric Robertson (1887-1941). They exhibited together in the Scotttish capital in 1912 and 1913. In the latter year, Sutherland was appointed to the staff of Edinburgh College of Art, where he taught painting and life drawing. He returned to the college after World War One service and was joined in the reformed Edinburgh Group by his colleague Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980). Following their marriage in 1924, they moved to Aberdeen in 1933 when Sutherland became Director of Gray’s School of Art. He remained in this post until retirement in 1948.

The Painting Student

Sutherland’s The Painting Student of 1920 (seen above) is a respectful portrait of one of his pupils. Painted on an imposing scale – the canvas measures 119 x 96cm – the young man looks directly at his teacher. He is depicted with brush and palette to hand, standing at his easel. The foreground is crowded with the accoutrements of the serious artist. A smock protects his formal clothing, whilst a piece of material tacked to the window diffuses the natural light entering through it. There is an atmosphere of concentration as student and teacher work side by side. Sutherland celebrates not only his job but also the talent of one of his protégés. The Painting Student was purchased by Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums in 1975.

Ian Fleming (1906-94) Art Students Preparing a Still Life, 1940, oil on canvas
Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums (c) Artist’s Estate

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming (1906-94) was born in Glasgow. He trained at Glasgow School of Art (GSA), where his talents as a printmaker became apparent. In 1931 he was appointed an Assistant Lecturer at his alma mater. He taught life drawing, painting and art history to students including Robert Colquhoun (1914-62) and Robert MacBryde (1913-66). Following service in World War Two, he returned to GSA but left in 1948 to become Warden of Hospitalfield College of Art, Arbroath. Six years later Fleming became Principal of Gray’s School of Art. He oversaw the school’s move to a new building at Garthdee before his retirement in 1971. Fleming maintained his own practice alongisde his teaching and administrative responsibilities. He was also an active member of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) and Aberdeen Artists’ Society and was a co-founder of the printmaking workshop Peacock Visual Arts in Aberdeen.

Art Students Preparing a Still Life

Fleming’s tour de force Art Students Preparing a Still Life of 1940 depicts a busy classroom studio. He draws the viewer into the very heart of the art school experience. Its focal point is two female students, considering how to approach the task set for them. Classic still life objects, including flowers in a vase and fruit in a dish, are available for their scrutiny at the lower right. An imposing plaster cast from a study collection vies for their attention on the left. The painting on the easel in the background could be a self-portrait of Fleming instructing students. The image is a tribute to the relationship between teacher and pupils, celebrating their mutual creativity. The painting was purchased by Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums in 1992 with the help of the National Fund for Acquisitions.

Jessie Alexandra Dick (1896-1976), Self-portrait in the Studio, undated, oil on canvas
The Glasgow School of Art (c) Artist’s Estate

Jessie Alexandra Dick

Jessie Alexandra Dick (1896-1976) was born in Largs and studied at GSA. She was a member of its Drawing and Painting staff for thirty-eight years, between 1922 and 1960. Amongst the courses she taught were landscape and figure composition, mural and decorative painting and pictorial and commercial art. She not only nurtured generations of Scottish artists but, as a successful practitioner, was also a role model for female students including Noel Slaney (1915-2000) and Jean Fleming (1937-88). Dick was a member of the Glasgow Society of Women Artists and was elected an Associate Member of the RSA in 1960. She showed her work at the Royal Glasgow Institute (RGI) for over fifty years, before her death in 1976.

Self-portrait in the Studio

Dick’s Self-portrait in the Studio is an imposing statement of the artist’s pride in her professional status. She depicts herself full-length, standing at her easel and looking confidently at the viewer. One hand holds a brush, momentarily stilled from working on the invisible canvas to the right. The other holds her overall up to reveal her skirt and therefore perhaps suggesting the woman underneath the practitioner. Glimpses of a portfolio and sheets of paper, as well as a ginger jar full of brushes, reference her productivity. A sensitively-rendered still life at the upper left not only brings beauty to her studio, but also refers to one of the genres at which she excelled and taught. This painting hung at GSA for many years, testimony to one of its longest-serving teachers, before it was lost in the school’s fire of 2014.

John Laurie (1916-72), Interested and Disinterested, c.1939;, oil on canvas
The Glasgow School of Art (c) Artist’s Estate

John Laurie

John Laurie (1916-72) was born in Shrewsbury. He studied at GSA and Hospitalfield, in both instances alongside Colquhoun and Macbryde. Such was his rapport with the warden at Hospitalfield, James Cowie (1886-1956), that after his initial residency in 1938 he returned in 1939 and 1940. A conscientious objector during World War Two, Laurie joined the staff at GSA in 1946; he taught Drawing there until 1972. The main focus of his practice was portraiture, the results of which he regularly exhibited with the RSA, RGI and the Society of Scottish Artists.

Interested and Disinterested

Interested and Disinterested of c.1939 is a wry take on Laurie’s fellow students at Hospitalfield. Heavily influenced by Cowie, it shows two female students in an imaginary setting, at once outside yet rooted in a classroom context. The central standing figure is seen in profile, in serious contemplation of a sheet of paper. In contrast, her companion looks out and away from the plethora of plaster casts, books and papers by which they are surrounded, with a somewhat sullen expression on her face. Direct references to the highly-refined draughtsmanship and Surrealist elements of Cowie’s contemporary work are combined with empathy towards the students’ differing experiences. The painting was shown at the RGI in 1940 and was given to GSA by the artist’s estate in 1983.

The four paintings above celebrate the relationship between – and experience of – art student and art teacher. They allow us to join them in the art class, a place of creativity and inspiration.

If you enjoyed this blog, you might also enjoy The Work of Art, which features the seminal Rest Time in the Life Class by Johnstone. The Studio Visit moves on from the art class to the artist’s studio and Women at Work discusses the working lives of female artists.

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