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Scottish Colourists

An evening lecture on 31st January 2011 by Vivian Heffernan BA, Cert Ed, at the Grosvenor Museum, Chester.

Over a hundred members and guests turned out on a cold evening for what proved to be a fascinating lecture. Vivian Heffernan, an experienced and enthusiastic NADFAS lecturer, showed many beautiful slides to illustrate the work of John Duncan Fergusson, Francis Cadell, Samuel Peploe and Leslie Hunter.

Dorothy and Linda with Vivian Hefferman
Painting between approximately 1905 and the early 1930s, the Colourists had little or no formal training but all spent some time in Paris, where the most exciting painting of the time was to be found. They were strongly influenced by the work of the Impressionists and Fauvists, especially Monet, Matisse and Cezanne. They did not work as a coherent group, and the term “Scottish Colourists”, coined in about 1948, was not one the artists themselves would have recognised.

Vivian Heffernan used her art training and her experience as a practising artist to interpret for us the work of these artists. She showed us how Fergusson contrasted two dimensional painting, or “shape”, and three dimensional representation, or “form”, such as in the paintings of wartime dockyards. We saw, in pictures such as Leslie Hunter’s “Peonies in a Chinese Vase”, how realistic perspective was ignored in order to emphasise shape and colour. After all, to paraphrase an insight from Ms Heffernan, a painting is not the same as a photograph, and doesn’t have to look like the thing it represents – it just has to look like a painting!

Peploe and Cadell both trained at the same academy in Paris and spent some time travelling and painting together. In particular they spent some time on Iona where Cadell was able to find some peace after his traumatic experience serving in the Great War, and both produced beautiful landscapes.

The Colourists were well known during their lifetimes but none earned sufficient income from their painting; in fact Cadell died in poverty. Their work fell out of favour by the time of the Second World War and only since the 1980s has it been recognised for its influence on Scottish art.

The work of the Scottish Colourists can now be seen in various collections including the Aberdeen Art Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Fergusson Gallery in Perth.

Ms Heffernan invited the audience to choose the picture they would most like to take home; a difficult choice now that we have been introduced to some of the lovely paintings of these artists.