The Scottish Colourists at Pallant House

Published on Culture 24

The Scottish Colourists – Paintings from the Fleming Collection, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until November 1 2009

Between 1909 and 1912, Edinburgh was closer to Paris than London. The French capital was awash with new artistic ideas and two Scottish painters were already making a name for themselves as Fauvists.

Samuel Peploe and John Fergusson were among the first British artists to get to grips with the radical new trends in painting which emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, sharing their place at the cutting edge with compatriots Francis Cadell and George Hunter.

The Scottish Colourists were never a movement, and their work shows a wide range of styles and influences. What brought them together was a passion for travel and paint. It’s through their efforts that modern art first reached our shores.

As a result, much of this show is experimental. In Jonquils and Silver by Fergusson, light dances as if from  the brush of Manet. His Jean Maconochie is a dark, bold portrait with echoes of Frans Hals.

Cadell, inspired by a trip to Venice, produced highly limpid brushwork in Carnations, but later in his career we find him painting The White Villa, Cassis, with Cézanne-like solidity.

Peploe even declares his own “white period.” Lady in a White Dress is an impressionistic study of a very natural-looking Edinburgh model called Peggy Macrae. Yet within five years he is using bright greens, yellows, reds and blues to paint Luxembourg Gardens, taking on the palette of the Fauves.

It is Peploe who first appears to hit upon a style of his own. Vase of Pink Roses and Roses are two similar works from 1925. Strong colours are still in evidence, but they’ve been flattened, and a new interest in geometry would seem to dictate the composition.

After soaking up the sun in rural France, it must have been a wrench to bring their easels back to Scotland. Yet all four of the Colourists did so, and the resulting landscapes are perhaps their most impressive works.

In Ceres, Fife (Fifeshire Village) by Hunter it could rain at any moment. Yet the rooftops are bathed in a warm orange glow. This, one feels, is a Highland scene from a Southern point of view, and all the more interesting for it.

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