With leaves falling from the trees, days shortening and temperatures dropping, it’s time to bid welcome to Winter through modern Scottish paintings.
One of the first signs of Winter’s approach is the need to dust off our warm and cosy clothes, hidden for months in wardrobes and drawers. The Fair Isle Jumper of 1923 by Stanley Cursiter (1887-1976) rejoices in such Winter fashions.
Stanley Cursiter (1887-1976)
Cursiter was born in Kirkwall, Orkney and studied at Edinburgh College of Art. He served in the Army during World War One and, after demobilisation, established a practice in the Scottish capital. The Fair Isle Jumper is an outstanding example of the paintings he made thereafter, before his appointment as Keeper of the National Galleries of Scotland in 1925; he was appointed their Director five years later.
The Fair Isle Jumper, 1923
In this work, the model Roberta Farquharson is seen in three-quarter length profile. She turns her head to look directly at the viewer, with her left, gloved hand on her left hip and her right-hand holdings its glove on her lap. Competing for prominence with the model’s steady gaze is the woollen shawl generously draped around and over her shoulders and chest. It’s voluminous draping is echoed and the composition thus balanced, by the crooking of her right arm.
The plain-ness of the shawl and the work’s background allow the patterning of the titular Fair Isle jumper to sing. It is glimpsed amidst the light and shadow caused by a source coming from the right. Recently made fashionable by the Prince of Wales (1894-1972), the knitwear is a link to Cursiter’s origins, as the Fair Isle is situated between the Orkney and Shetland archipelagos. A companion hat and suggestion of a tweed skirt complete the sitter’s seasonal, Scottish ensemble. The various materials featured, from wool to leather, are sensuously enjoyed in a painterly manner.
Scottish Modern Arts Association
The work was first shown in the Royal Scottish Academy’s Annual Exhibition of 1923. It was acquired by the Scottish Modern Arts Association, established in 1906 to collect modern art for the nation. The Association presented the painting to Edinburgh Corporation in 1964 and is now in the collection of the City Art Centre.
A perk of Winter is cold weather comfort food, from venison casseroles to mulled wine. In Winter Nellis of about 1913 by F. C. B. Cadell (1883-1937), the Scottish Colourist pays homage to this late season dessert pear. It can survive frosts, be stored for weeks and is a pleasure to eat in the darkest months of the year.
Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937)
Cadell was born in Edinburgh. He trained at the Académie Julian in Paris and at the Academie der Bildenden Künste in Munich. In 1909 he set up his first studio in Scotland, at 130 George Street in Edinburgh’s New Town. His first solo exhibition was held at the nearby Scottish Gallery in 1910. Two years later, Cadell was a co-founder of the Society of Eight exhibiting group and made the first of many painting trips to the Hebridean island of Iona.
Winter Nellis, c.1913
Winter Nellis shows the impact of a seminal visit Cadell made to Venice in 1910, sponsored by his patron, the politician Sir Patrick Ford (1880-1945). Venice’s beauty, grandeur, light and watery reflections freed up Cadell’s technique and encouraged a compositional use of bright colour.
As a result, in this work, the pears nestle together on a swiftly painted platter. Highlights of yellow, brown and grey indicate the curvaceous forms of the fruit. Shadow is expressed through blue and areas of the canvas are left exposed, its colour an integral part of the overall palette. Sheer bravura in the realisation of the companion glass sees light reflected off it and the white tablecloth viewed through it; a hint of an orange is given at the extreme right, suggestive of an otherwise blank setting.
George Smith (1907-97)
Outdoors in Winter Time
As the season really takes hold, what could be more uplifting than a brisk walk in crisp Winter sunshine? Winter Landscape 1952 by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004) is an abstract celebration of nature at this time of year.
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004)
Barns-Graham was born in St Andrew’s and trained at Edinburgh College of Art. As a highly-conscientious and successful student, she began showing her work in group exhibitions including those organised by the Society of Scottish Artists and Royal Scottish Academy. The college Principal, Hubert Wellington (1879-1967), encouraged her to move to Cornwall in 1940, where Modernist artists including Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) and Ben Nicholson (1894-1982) had begun to gather; Barns-Graham thus became an early member of which is now known as the St Ives School.
Winter Landscape 1952, 1952
In 1949 Barns-Graham visited Switzerland and climbed the Grindelwald glaciers. This experience inspired her Glacier series, with which she established her reputation as a pioneer of British abstraction. Winter Landscape 1952 is a development from these works in which she continues her visual expression of what it is like to see, feel and be amongst nature. An aerial view with a suggestion of coastline and sea, it consists of multiple paint layers, varied techniques and a combination of the geometric with the organic. The muted palette is underpinned by a confident use of black in an almost square image (29 x 28cm) which finds beauty where many would see only bleakness.
Winter Landscape 1952 is in the Jerwood Collection, London.
Winter through a Window
During 2020 we have spent more time than usual looking through our windows to the outside world. This is a common occurrence during Winter and is depicted in Winter Dusk of 1961-63 by William Gillies (1898-1973).
William Gillies (1898-1973)
Gillies was born in Haddington, East Lothian. His training at Edinburgh College of Art was disrupted by service in World War One. After a period studying under André Lhote (1885-1962) in Paris and travelling in Italy, Gillies retuned to Scotland. He taught at his alma mater from 1925 until his retirement as its Principal in 1966, by way of being elected a member of the Society of Scottish Artists, Royal Scottish Academy and Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour.
Winter Dusk, 1961-63
In 1939, Gillies moved to Temple, Midlothian where he lived for the rest of his life. It is likely that Winter Dusk was painted and is set in his home. A large and complex painting, it measures 114 x 152cm. A window provides a mid-ground structure and is the boundary between interior and exterior. A selection of model animals and a blue bowl have been positioned along part of its frame and a snow-covered garden and distant hills can be seen through its panes of glass. Calligraphic bushes outside and flowers inside are set against swathes of gentle colour, heightening their silhouettes. A table in the foreground is covered with ceramics and plants, the shoots of the hyacinth bulbs in the central blue and white bowl a sign that Winter is coming to an end and Spring it on its way.
Winter Dusk was purchased by the Hunterian Art Gallery in 1965.
If you are interested in Stanley Cursiter, you might like this blog and this link will lead you to an article about F. C. B. Cadell. For more on Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, please see this post and William Gillies features in this news feature.