ART OF THE IMPROBABLE; Anne Redpath Was the Key Figure in the Edinburgh School and Opened the Door for Women Artists - and Though a Presbyterian, Her Devotion to Roman Catholic Architecture Defined Her Work
Byline: by Jim McBeth
HER brush flew over the canvas in bold strokes of gold, silver and purple. Scotland's finest female artist worked feverishly, praying newfound passion would defy lifelong Presbyterianism long enough to capture the quintessential Roman Catholic subject which had consumed her since her return from Lisbon.
Anne Redpath was surrounded by sketch books, page after page of drawings of the ornate 16th century baroque altar of the Church of St Roque in the Portuguese capital. As the ethereally beautiful image emerged, she turned to her son, David Michie, and said: 'My God, what would father say if he could see? All this Popery.' Today, 45 years after the passing of his mother, Mr Michie is still in no doubt as to the emotions which would have been engendered in his grandfather, the nondrinking, non-smoking church elder. 'Grandfather would have regarded it as idolatrous and he would have been birling in his grave,' laughed the 82-year-old artist in his Edinburgh studio.
However, in spite of her upbringing, Miss Redpath's fascination for Catholic architecture and iconography would define the career of the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Scottish Academy.
She would become equally famous for her still lifes and the hill town paintings of her White Period. As the leader of the Edinburgh School, heirs to the Scottish Colourists, she persuaded the establishment - and other women who wanted to paint - that she was as good as any man.
Today, a rare sale of her work is expected to raise more than [pounds sterling]250,000 at auction and will offer a glimpse of the talent that made her one of the most influential Scottish artists of the 20th century.
THE paintings at Bonhams' Scottish Sale include one of her depictions of the St Roque altar. 'Her upbringing could not have been more Protestant,' said her son. 'But in spite of it informing her with a sense of duty, self-discipline and a strong moral code, she was totally non-religious.
'The fascination of the "shock" of experiencing the exoticism of the baroque, which we did not have in Scotland, had an extraordinary effect on her.' Born in the Borders in 1895, Anne Redpath, who died in 1965 at the age of 70, was brought up in Hawick, where her father Thomas was a tweed designer and a pillar of the local Congregational Church.
The woman whose life philosophy was 'plant yourself in a bigger pot every year' was educated at Hawick High School, where her artistic talent began to emerge. However, her idiosyncratic vision was often at odds with others.
Her frustrated art teacher John Gray, who became the President of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours, examined one of Miss Redpath's drawings and took the pencil from her, saying: 'Look, this is how it's done.' Miss Redpath retrieved the pencil and replied: 'But I don't see it like that.' In 1913, she went on to study at Edinburgh College of Art, where she became a star student. Postgraduate study led to a scholarship which allowed her to travel and paint on the Continent in 1919, visiting Bruges, Paris, Florence and Sienna.
A year later, she married architect James Michie and they went to live in the South of France, where her sons, Alastair, Lindsay and David, were born.
Mr Michie, who is a well-known and much respected painter, said: 'She did a great deal of painting in France, but to me and my brothers, she was just mum, the woman who darned my socks, made casseroles and grilled trout.
'It was only much later, when I went to art school, that I began to realise what a great painter she was and have a wider appreciation of her which went far beyond her being my mother.' The family returned to Scotland in 1934 and settled in Hawick. Miss Redpath was soon exhibiting in Edinburgh and in 1944 became the president of the Scottish Society of Women Artists. …