>> The Glasgow Boys
The Scottish Colourists <<
All artists are individual. But almost all artists will have been assigned to a movement at some point. It is two such groups that we are looking at this week. Active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, The Glasgow Boys were practitioners of an innovative modern style of painting. Showing an interest in realism and impressionism, ‘the Boys’ also sought to challenge the Edinburgh-dominated art scene. One of the group’s leading members was James Guthrie and the first poem evokes the strength of his genre portraiture as well as the group’s quest to portray light. Our second artistic ‘movement’ follows on from ‘the Boys’ but is more closely defined, consisting of precisely four artists. The poem concerns Francis Cadell, one of the leading members of The Scottish Colourists, as the group became known. Active in the first four decades of last century, Cadell’s work is famous for its depiction of elegant Edinburgh New Town interiors, for his portraits of fashionable women and for his landscapes of Iona. His work – like that of some, but not all, of the Colourists – is characterised by a loose, impressionistic manner, with vibrant waves of colour. Any extremes in this week’s pairing are to be found as much within these two groups as they are between them. Movements are often appellations conceived of retrospectively and while friendship between these artists does link them, their work insists that they are all individuals.
In A Good Light
by Colin Will
Guthrie came here first. It’s for the light,
he said. Light’s everywhere, I know,
but all along this coast it feels like
there’s more of it to go round.
There’s short winter light, cloud-softened,
diffuse, but still strong enough for detail
and colour. Summer light sparkles
on the sea, shimmers in the trees.
Walton, Henry, Crawhall and the rest –
‘The Boys’ – came and left,
but Guthrie stayed, light-borne,
seasonally sombre, seasonably bright.
They sketched in the village and the fields,
transforming cobbles, pantiles, the faces
of children and old men, from French Realism
to something native, local, universal.
I look at a cabbage-patch girl, knife in hand,
face tanned by Merse sun, her cool stare,
about to sned one for the pot, tonight’s supper.
They grow well here, kail and daughters.
Something in the light makes them strong,
sonsy, striking subjects for portraits.
This is how we are, she says, this is how
I am, en plein air, standing in the light.
Cadell (and Other Colourists)
by Douglas Dunn
“Live like a bourgeois, work like a demi-God”. Flaubert
He was a man who’d looked long at the sea
And islandscaped his visions of Iona.
His other habitat was Edinburgh rooms —
George Street, Ainslie Place, Regency Terrace —
And their vocabulary of furniture,
Crockery, silverware, mirrors, polished floors,
Prosperous Georgian interiors.
And fashionable women, seldom smiling —
Thirty-something? Forty-something? Hard to tell,
In their melodic black millinery.
Age, anyway, as geniuses portray it,
Becomes timeless, although in its moment.
But, best of all, it’s colours that say it —
“The Black Hat” — there’s several of these — “The White Room”,
“The Red Chair”, “The Orange Blind”, “The Tapestry Cloak”.
So much leisure …. But I feel something tense,
Or sorrowful, in all that elegance.
Who were the dress-makers and milliners?
Who made the mirrors shine, who cleaned the grate,
Who set the table that fine afternoon?
Could it be imagined and fictitious,
Reality transformed by liliaceous
Peploe, Cadell, and muscular Fergusson.
Colin Will is an Edinburgh-born poet with a background in botany and geology. His eighth book, a collection of poems in the Japanese haibun form, was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2014. He chairs the Board of StAnza, Scotland’s international poetry festival. Website: www.colinwill.co.uk
Douglas Dunn is a major Scottish poet, editor and critic. Author of over ten collections of poetry, he has also edited several anthologies, including The Faber Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry (2000). He was Professor in the School of English at the University of St Andrews from 1991. Douglas Dunn was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2013 and an OBE in 2003.