Magazine article The Spectator

The Past Is Orange

Magazine article The Spectator

The Past Is Orange

Article excerpt

Exhibition 2

The Scottish Colourists

(Portland Gallery, 9 Bury Street, London SW1, till 19 July)

The past is orange

Andrew Lambirth

The Scottish Colourists (a term first used in 1948 to describe a loose association of turn-of-the-century Francophile painters) are now so popular mar nat it is useful to De reminded that one of the four artists exhibited here - F.C.B. Cadell -does not even rate an entry in The Yale Dictionary of Art & Artists. This is strange, for his friends do (J.D. Fergusson, G.L. Hunter and S.J. Peploe), and Cadell is by no means the weakest member of the group. In fact, this exhibition is dominated by his work (his brush accounts for half of the 60 exhibits), and despite such horrors as the monstrously out-of-proportion sea-gulls which ruin an otherwise solid landscape of Iona, there are at least a couple of paintings which demonstrate his particular talents rather well.

Cadell was adept at depicting empty interiors, recently abandoned and intensely suggestive of human occupancy. `Interior - The Eagle Mirror' of 1921 is a splendid example of this, the open doorway framing a scene of cool and wonderfully stagey elegance, very much of its period. A couple of watercolours from ten years' earlier, one of the Ballet Russe, the other a stage set, strike an opposing note of glorious informality, and have some of the airy freshness and rich colouration of Anthony Fry's work. Without stretching the comparison too far, Fry (born 1927) and his friend Craigie Aitchison (born 1926) can be seen as the contemporary equivalents of the Scottish Colourists. Aitchison is Scottish, though he's chosen to make his home in London, and Fry studied in Edinburgh under William Gillies. Both paint abroad, in India and Italy, and both have a highly developed sense of colour, and the sensibility to employ it to the most startling and visually satisfying ends.

The original Colourists are often held up as the first recognisable avant-garde group to distinguish Modern British Art. In fact, although their allegiance to Paris and the shockingly rebarbative work of the Fauves is undisputed, they took only the external trimmings of Modernism - the harsher colour contrasts of the Fauves, a certain clumsiness of form peculiar to Cezanne, and the apparent angularities of Cubism -- without real understanding of its radical aims. …

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