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
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J. D. Fergusson Estre, Hymn to the Sun c 1924

Francis Cadell exhibition in Edinburgh

The Scottish Colourist Series: FCB Cadell

Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937) was one of the group of four Scottish artists collectively known as “the Scottish Colourists”, the others being Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935), George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931) and John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961) .  They were all strongly influenced by French Avant-garde art movements from the early Twentieth Century – the Impressionists, Post Impressionists and Fauvists.

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.

The Colourists seem to be the flavour of the month in Scotland at the moment. The Hunterian Art Gallery  in Glasgow  is showing an exhibition of work by John Fergusson until 8 January 2012, which we visited earlier this year and there’s a major retrospective of Cadell’s work being shown at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. The latter is the first of a series of exhibitions which will feature each of the Scottish Colourists in turn over the next few years.

We visited the Cadell exhibition a few weeks ago. It has brought together a large number of his works from throughout his career from public and private collections. There are four rooms, three showing paintings in chronological order with the fourth devoted to paintings and sketches he produced during his regular visits to the remote Scottish island of Iona.

The first room shows earlier works from the time when, as a young man, he divided his time between Paris and Edinburgh and from 1907 when he enrolled at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich.

The second and fourth rooms showed how he developed as an artist. The earlier pictures show a very distinctive Impressionist influence. He then began to develop his own style with areas of flat colour and much finer brushwork. There are three dominant themes in these works – still lives, room interiors (often viewed through an open door which frames the view) and portraits of elegant, well dressed, wealthy women. Some of the paintings encompassed two or even all three of these themes.

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Interior with opera cloak (Image source: Wikipedia)

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Black Hat, Miss Don Wauchope (Image source: Wikipedia)

Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell The Blue Fan − Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

The Blue Fan (Image source: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art)

I quite liked the Impressionist style paintings, although J though that they were second rate. I had mixed feelings about the later works.  I liked the pictures of the women. I thought he composed them well and the models seemed alive. I had mixed feelings about the interiors. I liked some but was less keen on others. But I found the still lives uninteresting and the flat two dimensional look  didn’t appeal to me.

During the First World War Cadell  joined the army and fought in the trenches. He was obviously keen as he was refused when he first volunteered but was accepted when he made a second attempt to join up. During his time in the army he produced some sketches and cartoons, examples of which were on display in Edinburgh. I quite liked these which, composed with a few strokes, seemed to bring out the character of the subjects.

Cadell was a regular visitor to the remote Hebridean island of Iona , which attracted other artists too, including Cadell’s friend fellow Colourist, Samual Peploe. One of the rooms was devoted to works produced while he was on the island. Many of these were drawn from private collections and probably won’t be on public show again in the near future after the exhibition closes in March 2012.

I think Iona brought out the best in Cadell and this was definitely my favourite room in the exhibition. One thing i particularly liked were the series of photographs that were taken from the same viewpoints as a number of the paintings. In most cases there was very little difference between the views shown on the photographs and the paintings, reflecting how little the island has changed over the past 80 years or so.

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Iona, looking North; Watercolour, (Image source: Wikipedia)

FCB Cadell, Iona − Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Iona (Image source: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art)

The exhibition presented an excellent opportunity to gain a good overview of Cadell’s work. However, I came away with mixed feelings. Although I liked some of the paintings and sketches on display, and he is clearly seen as an important Scottish painter, to me, Cadell didn’t come across as a major artist. Having previously seen the Hunter exhibition in Glasgow, I think that the latter was the better, more skilful painter and a much more significant artist. Nevertheless the exhibition was well worth the entry fee. The gallery will be following this with exhibitions devoted to the other Colourists, the next one, due to open In the Autumn of 2012 being devoted to Cadell’s good friend Samuel Peploe.

J. D. Fergusson at the Hunterian

While we were in Glasgow last week we went to have a look at the exhibition Colour, Rhythm and Form: J. D. Fergusson and France showing at the Hunterian Art Gallery until 8 January 2012. It features a large number of paintings from the Fergusson Gallery in Perth together with works from the Hunterian’s own collection and three painting loaned by the Pompidou centre in Paris.

J. D. Fergusson, Self Portrait, 1907 © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council

Fergusson (1874-1961) was one of the group of four Scottish artists collectively known as “the Scottish Colourists”, the others being Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935), George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931) and Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937).  They were all strongly influenced by French Avant-garde art from the early Twentieth Century, putting their own Scottish stamp on the styles. Fergusson, Peploe and Hunter exhibited together in Paris as Les Peintres de l’Écosse Moderne (Modern Scottish Painters) in 1924 and Les Peintres Ecossais (The Scottish Painters) in 1931.

As the title of the exhibition suggests, it focuses on Fergusson’s work but there are some examples of paintings by other Colourists. He lived in France between 1907 and 1914 and returned a number of times after the war.

I’d first come across his work in Manchester City Art Gallery who have one of his paintings in their collection.

J D Fergusson Le Quartier Paris 1906

As I noted in a previous post, I liked the simplicity of the composition and the style of painting – broad brush strokes and bright colours. This picture wasn’t included in the Hunterian exhibition, but there were plenty of other works to see that illustrated how Fergusson and the other “Colourists” were heavily influenced by the exciting developments in art taking place in Paris at the turn of the 20th Century. I’d recently seen the exhibition in Budapest of works by the “Hungarian Fauvists (A Nyolcak)” , another group of artists who were in Paris around the same time and were also heavily influenced by Cubist and Fauvist ideas, so it was particularly interesting to see how Fergusson’s work compared.

The works were displayed chronologically so it was easy to see how Fergusson’s style developed and changed over time as he absorbed influences from French artistic movements.

Early paintings show a strong influence by Whistler, a large collection of whose works are owned by the Hunterian (see here). They were very grey, dull and muddy, with little sign of the bright colours that were to typify his later works. His views and artistic approach changed when he became aware of Manet, Monet and the Impressionists during a number of visits to France, the first around 1897. He was later to explain

“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.

Having said that, a number of his later paintings show a Whistlerian influence, although with much brighter colours. For example, Le Manteau Chinois

Le Manteau Chinois 1909

Many of Fergusson’s paintings displayed in the exhibition are of women. The American artist Anne Estelle Rice, who he met in Paris, and his long term partner, who he met in France in 1913, the dancer Margaret Morris, both modelled for him and feature in many of his works. That’s Anne in the Chinese outfit above and in the next couple of pictures. Margaret features heavily in his work from 1913 onwards.

The painting from the Manchester City Art Gallery, which was painted in 1906, the year before he moved to France, shows a strong Impressionist influence. The earlier paintings from his time in Paris, such as Anne Estelle Rice in Paris, continue this trend.

J. D. Fergusson, Anne Estelle Rice in Paris, Closerie des Lilas, 1907 © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council.

But he was soon trying out new styles as can be seen in Le Voile Persan , a very “flat” painting where the blocks of colour are outlined with heavy lines and less naturalistic colours are beginning to creep in. This was my favourite of all the pictures in the exhibition. It’s from the Hunterian Gallery’s own collection and I’d seen it during a previous visit in July. I was so taken with it I’d even bought a postcard!

J. D. Fergusson, Le Voile Persan, 1909 © The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery

The exhibition showed how Fergusson tried out different approaches, illustrated by three works painted during a stay in Royan in 1910, each of which is painted in a different style (one even looking as if it was painted by Van Gogh). A distinct Fauvist influence appears in his work at this time

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J. D. Fergusson, People and Sails at Royan, 1910

J. D. Fergusson, Les Eus, c 1910 © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council

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J. D. Fergusson, At My Studio Window, 1910 © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council

Fergusson was art editor of the Modernist magazine, Rhythm. The magazine title was suggested by Fergusson and the cover was based on one of the paintings from his Paris period,

Cover of Rhythm magazine (1911) by J D Fergusson

J. D. Fergusson, Rhythm, 1911

Another picture I liked was this portrait of Margaret Morris.

J. D. Fergusson Summer 1920

J. D. Fergusson, Christmas Time in the South of France, 1922 © The Fergusson Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council

One of his paintings, La Déssee de la Rivière was purchased by the French Government on the opening day of the 1931 exhibition held in Paris.  It’s now held by the Pompidou Centre who have lent it to the Hunterian, together with two other paintings,  La Forêt by Peploe and Lac Lomond by Hunter, which they purchased at the same time.

a painting of a reclining nude

J.D. Fergusson, La Déesse de la Rivière, c 1928 © Collection Centre Pompidou

There were a couple of sculptures displayed, including a cast of Estre, Hymn to the Sun – a bust of Margaret Morris. We’d seen another copy a little earlier in the day when we’d visited the Kelvingrove Museum, who have a small collection of works by the Colourists.

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J. D. Fergusson Estre, Hymn to the Sun c 1924

I thought that this was an excellent exhibition, providing a good opportunity to learn more about an important Scottish artist. Talking to one of the staff, attendance so far has been on the low side. She reckoned it was because Scots aren’t used to paying to see exhibitions (entry cost £5 each). I can understand that. Charging a fee inevitably restricts entry to the more affluent. However, the exhibition deserves to be a success. It’s on until 8 January and is definitely worth a visit by anyone interested in 20th Century British art.

“Le Quartier, Paris” by John Fergusson

I spotted this picture during a recent visit to Manchester City Art Gallery. It’s by John Fergusson, one of a group of Scottish painters known as the “Scottish Colourists” who were active during the first half of the 20th Century.

I first came across the Colourists when I watched a programme on the BBC about them fronted by Michael Palin last year. And I don’t think I’ve seen any of their pictures before. They were influenced by the Impressionists and Fauvists and spent time painting in both France and Scotland.

According to the Gallery website

“Born in Leith, Fergusson studied medicine in Edinburgh but in 1898  abandoned this career to study art in Paris. He subsequently made repeat visits to the French capital, painting street life and visiting Impressionist exhibitions. The artist finally settled in Paris in 1907.

Fergusson ……  mixed in café-society circles and knew the Fauvists Henri Matisse and André Derain.”

I was passing through Gallery 9 on the way to see the photographic exhibition of work by Dorothy Bohm when the picture caught my eye. I like the simplicity of the composition and the style of painting – broad brush strokes and bright colours.

The Impressionist influence is particularly evident in the picture. Close up everything  is made up of blobs of paint, but stand back and the picture emerges. The woman’s dress in the foreground is made up of just two or three strokes of bright pink paint applied with a wide brush.

It was painted in 1906, the year before Fergusson settled in Paris.