Colour and Light at Abbot Hall

Last Saturday we drove up to Kendal to take a look at the current exhibition at Abbot Hall. “Colour and Light”

presents the art and influence of the Scottish Colourists centred on masterpieces from the renowned Fleming Collection, the finest collection of Scottish art outside public museums and institutions. 

The Scottish Colourists were a group of four artists S.J.Peploe, J.D. Fergusson, George Leslie Hunter, and F.C.B. Cadell. They were all strongly influenced by French Avant-garde art from the early Twentieth Century – the Impressionists, Post Impressionists and Fauvists – putting their own Scottish stamp on the styles.

I’d first come across their work when watching a TV documentary about the group by Michael Palin some years ago and also at Manchester City Art Gallery who have a painting by both Fergusson and Cadell in their collection. Following that I’d seen exhibitions of work by both of these artists during visits to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The Colourists’ philosophy is perhaps best summed up by this quote from John Fergusson

“Everyone in Scotland should refuse to have anything to do with black or dirty and dingy colours, and insist on clean colours in everything. I remember when I was young any colour was considered a sign of vulgarity. Greys and blacks were the only colours for people of taste and refinement. Good pictures had to be black, grey, brown or drab. Well! let’s forget it, and insist on things in Scotland being of colour that makes for and associates itself with light, hopefulness, health and happiness.”
— J. D. Fergusson, Modern Scottish Painting, William MacLellan, Glasgow 1943.

Although there were close similarities in their style and influences, they were not a close knit group with a specific set of aims, and only exhibited together on three occasions while they were all still alive. In practice, all four artists had their own individual styles, but the French influences come through, particularly in their early works. The Colourist label is applied because they all used bright, vibrant colours.

S J Peploe, Luxembourg Gardens, c. 1910, oil on panel © The Fleming Collection

There are over  50 works in 3 galleries, including paintings, drawings and sculpture by all four Colourists – S.J.Peploe, J.D. Fergusson, George Leslie Hunter, and F.C.B. Cadell. The first two works are devoted to the group with the third gallery showing works by later artists from the Fleming Collection to try to demonstrate the influence of the Colourists.

F C B Cadell The Feathered Hat (1914) oil on panel © The Fleming Collection
George Hunter Peonies in a Chinese Vase c 1928 The Fleming-Wyfold Art Collection

From what I’ve seen of the Colourists I think that John Ferguson was the most significant artist. The other members of the group mainly concentrated on landscapes, still lives and society portraits, whereas Fergusson’s works are more radical and imaginative as illustrated by the following two works

J D Fergusson Blue Nude c 1909-10 goache on paper © The Fleming Collection
P1020830
J. D. Fergusson Estre, Hymn to the Sun c 1924

6 thoughts on “Colour and Light at Abbot Hall

  1. This sounds good, I’m very fond of the Scottish colourists, in face we were in a small gallery in Greenock this afternoon and there was one of each artist’s work. I’m not sure Modern 2 in Edinburgh ever completed the set, I only remember 3 exhibitions. There’s also a whole gallery devoted to Fergusson in Perth. It’s in an old waterworks so the building is quite interesting in itself.

    • Looks a great exhibition in Kendal, heading there soon.
      Recently in Woking, I was fortunate to visit the local gallery, The Lightbox, which had a superb collection of the Scottish Colourists, S.J. Peploe (1871 – 1935), J.D. Fergusson (1874 – 1961), G.L. Hunter (1877 – 1931) and F.C.B. Cadell (1883 – 1935).

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