TOAST Magazine

National Galleries of Scotland | Art at Home

ARTS & CULTURE

In this series, we whisk you around some of our favourite museums, galleries and sculpture parks across the UK, and select works and objects from each that relate to family life, home and nature.

National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

This leading arts organisation consists of three Edinburgh galleries. Spread across them is a first-rate collection of Western art representing every era from the Middle Ages to the present day. The Scottish National Gallery tells the tale of Scottish painting and also showcases works by art history’s leading lights, while the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is focused on more recent work and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is filled with photographs as well as paintings and sculptures.

Instead of being divided into distinct movements, Scottish art history is marked by clutches of like-minded artists – from the Glasgow Boys, who in the late 19th century painted nostalgic rural scenes, to the Scottish Colourists, a 20th-century quartet influenced by the vibrant colours and vigorous brushwork of French Fauvism and the bright light of the Impressionists. At the National Galleries of Scotland, the works by such groups provide a lens through which you can explore the nation’s visual culture and international connections.

Here, we select a handful of works to admire from home or seek out as the National Galleries of Scotland reopen.

The Black Bottle (c.1905) by Samuel John Peploe

One of four 20th-century artists known as the Scottish Colourists, Peploe enlivened the nation’s art scene with ideas lifted from the French avant-garde. Born in Edinburgh, he studied in Paris from 1910 to 1912, where he was influenced by the closely cropped compositions, bold colours and open brushwork of the Impressionists and Fauves. His preferred subject was still life – in this case, a swiftly executed lunch or dinner. The creamy tablecloth contrasts with the plain dark backdrop and the slender glass glistens in the light. Despite the casual appearance, everything on the table is cleverly arranged according to colour, the golden apple echoing the flower pattern on the china bowl and the bunch of grapes balancing out the inky bottle of wine.

In the Orchard (1886) by Sir James Guthrie

The Scottish Colourists combined aspects of the Parisian avant-garde with the Realist style and rural subject matter favoured by Scotland’s then leading group of artists: the Glasgow Boys, among whom Guthrie was a pivotal figure. Born in Greenock, the self-taught artist spent brief stints in London and Paris before settling in Scotland and painting directly from nature. This muted work shows a young boy and girl collecting fallen apples in an orchard; their rosy cheeks hint at their exertion. Sunlight filters through the trees, which – like the grass – are rendered in broad brushstrokes. Such large canvases were usually reserved for religious or history paintings, but Guthrie devotes his to a humble neighbourhood task.

A Cabbage Garden (1877) by Arthur Melville

This is the first painting that Melville exhibited at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and it marked a leap forward in his work. Though a double portrait of sorts, the focus is more on the East Lothian cabbage garden than it is on the man in overalls tending to his patch or woman in a bonnet who has paused to speak with him for a moment. The leafy-green vegetables take up two-thirds of the canvas and are rendered in great detail in the foreground, while becoming increasingly smudgy as they recede. The muddy brown of the surrounding trees and the mottled grey sky mean our focus is uninhibited – all we need do is watch the cabbages grow and gleam.

Three Ladies of Fashion (1900) by Bessie MacNicol

Of course, there were Glasgow Girls too: a group of women artists and designers active in Scotland’s cultural hub at the turn of the century. Among them was MacNicol, who studied first in Glasgow, then in Paris and exhibited across Europe. Her interest in fashion was likely sparked by her grandfather, a master tailor; she was more interested in capturing in paint the shape, texture and detail of the clothes than what was in vogue. She tended to paint women in old-fashioned frills, with blowsy skirts, big hats and fluttering fans. The mirror and chair in this gently distorted work suggests that we might be in the changing room of a dress shop.



The White Drake (c.1895) by Joseph Crawhall

Another of the Glasgow Boys, Crawhall takes one of the white drakes waddling around on the left-hand side of Guthrie’s great canvas and makes it the protagonist of his gentle watercolour. Throughout his career, the artist painted delicate portraits of birds and animals that combine his knack for observation with his feel for formal design. Though he began each work by looking closely at wildlife, he often pieced together his subjects from memory and imagination. His sun-dappled drake is situated in a decorative meadow of daisies and dandelions that calls to mind the Chinese wash drawings and Japanese prints that Crawhall admired.

The Mysterious Garden (1911) by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh

Together with her husband, the artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Macdonald Mackintosh played an important part in the emergence of the Glasgow Style. Alongside her craftwork she produced large watercolours like this one, which shows a sleeping figure being watched over – or dreaming about – eight floating heads with pursed lips and wide-set eyes. The otherworldly nature of the work, which features a backdrop of geometric patterns overlaid with transparent washes of grey and blue, recalls the art of English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and Dutch painter Jan Toorop – both of whom had an impact on artists in Glasgow.


Iona Croft (mid-1920s) by Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell

Cadell found solace in the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, a welcome break from the bustle of his native Edinburgh. He first visited in 1912, after which he journeyed back and forth almost every summer, often together with fellow Scottish Colourist, Peploe. His oil paintings capture daily life on the island – in this instance, a whitewashed, bright-roofed dwelling on a grassy knoll. Composed of rich colours and rough brushstrokes, the works sold well back in the Scottish capital, where they provided urbanites with a taste of island living.

Red Roofs (Dieppe) (1922) by Margaret Morris

The influence of Scottish Colourists such as Cadell on Morris shines through in this piled-high work, with its strong hues and angular planes. Painted during a trip to Ourville, near a town called Dieppe on the coast of northern France, it presents a jumble of houses in a style that teeters on the edge of Abstraction. A dance teacher as well as an artist, with a love of more free and modern movements, Morris established the Celtic Ballet Club and later the Scottish National Ballet. She also collaborated with her husband, the Scottish artist J.D. Fergusson, on the design of her productions.

Mother and Child (1920s) by Norah Neilson Gray

Gray too was a teacher, in her case of design and drawing at the Glasgow School of Art, where she studied. After the First World War she established her own portrait practice, working with both oil paint and watercolour and producing stylised images of women and children that are recognisable by their curious figure placement and palette. Here, a young mother kisses her child’s cheek, the pair a silvery silhouette against a golden-yellow backdrop. Gray also made illustrations, some of which feature in a 1913 edition of William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”.


Sabine (2000) by Alison Watt

And finally, almost a century later, we have Watt – who in the same year that she painted this elegant work became one of the youngest artists to have a solo show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. After starting out painting female nudes, Watt turned her attention to fabrics. “Sabine” is part of a series inspired by the sensuous textiles found in Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ suggestive paintings of women. In this vast canvas the artist achieves an effect akin to trompe l’oeil, with the smooth folds so convincingly rendered that you can almost feel their weight. The combination of colour palette and composition evokes crumbled bed sheets and discarded clothes – as well as the folds and creases of skin that such fabrics usually conceal.

The National Galleries of Scotland have begun a phased reopening with limited visitors in each gallery space. Admission is free but tickets must be booked in advance. To see these works in person, find out more on their website

Words by Chloë Ashby

All images © National Galleries of Scotland.

Image Credits: Sir James Guthrie, In the Orchard, 1886. Purchased jointly by the National Galleries of Scotland and Glasgow Life with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2012. Photography John McKenzie. Joseph Crawhall, The White Drake, about 1895. Purchased with support by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund 1996. Photographer: Antonia Reeve. Norah Neilson Gray, Mother and Child, 1920s. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh: Purchased with funds from the Cecil and Mary Gibson Bequest 2015. Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell, Iona Croft, mid 1920s. Bequeathed by Dr R.A. Lillie 1977. Photographer: Antonia Reeve. Bessie MacNicol, Three Ladies of Fashion, 1900. Mrs Isabel M. Traill Gift 1979. Arthur Melville, A Cabbage Garden, 1877. Purchased by private treaty sale with the assistance of the Art Fund, 2007. Photographer: Antonia Reeve. Samuel John Peploe, The Black Bottle, about 1905. Presented by Mr J.W. Blyth 1939. Alison Watt, Sabine, 2000. Purchased (Knapping Fund) 2001. © Alison Watt. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018. Photographer: Antonia Reeve. Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, The Mysterious Garden, 1911. Purchased with help from the Art Fund 2011. Photography: John McKenzie. Margaret Morris, Red Roofs (Dieppe), 1922. © Margaret Morris Movement International Limited. Photography: John McKenzie.

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