By the Light of the Moon

Oil on canvas, Moon, 2014, by Alison Watt, acquired by the City Art Centre (City of Edinburgh Museums & Galleries) in 2017 with an NFA grant of £9,500.

Earlier this year the City Art Centre in Edinburgh acquired a new painting by contemporary artist Alison Watt to add to its Scottish Art collection. Numbering over 4,800 artworks in a variety of media, this collection traces the development of art in Scotland from the 17th century to the present day. The acquisition of contemporary works is a key part of our collecting policy, ensuring that the collection continues to provide a comprehensive overview of Scottish art for future generations.

Alison Watt was born in Greenock in 1965 and studied at Glasgow School of Art during the 1980s. She first came to public attention in 1987 when she won the National Portrait Gallery’s prestigious annual Portrait Award. During the early part of her career, Watt concentrated on the human form, painting both portraits and female nudes. However, in the late 1990s she began to produce highly detailed depictions of fabric and drapery which reference the work of 18th and 19th century French artists such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) and Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). Since then Watt’s style has become increasingly abstract, although her paintings remain rooted in the idea of human presence and absence.

Alison Watt - Moon, 2014- installed revised 2016_PRESS

Oil on canvas, Moon, 2014, by Alison Watt

Moon is a striking example of Watt’s mature work, which blends the influence of the Old Masters with the artist’s literary interests. The poetry of Norman MacCaig (1910-1996), with its focus on the small, often overlooked details of nature and their relationship to our wider understanding of the world, is of particular relevance. According to Watt, Moon relates specifically to MacCaig’s 1974 poem Praise of a Thorn Bush, which describes a transformation by moonlight:

at night you trap stars, and the moon
fills you with distances.

Like a piece of poetry, this quietly powerful painting invites a contemplative and intimate response.

Moon is the first artwork by Alison Watt to be acquired by the City Art Centre. It joins a growing collection of work by contemporary Scottish artists which includes important pieces by, among others, Nathan Coley (b1967), Christine Borland (b1965), Charles Avery (b1973) and Graham Fagan (b1966). It also strengthens the representation of female artists in the collection.

Alison Watt Installation Image

Moon on display at the City Art Centre

Moon can currently be seen at the City Art Centre in the new exhibition Edinburgh Alphabet: An A-Z of the City’s Collections. This show brings together over 300 objects drawn from across the City’s fine and applied art, social history, literary, archaeology and childhood collections. Within this diverse, multi-disciplinary display Moon is shown alongside a selection of historic and modern Scottish sculpture, revealing yet another dimension to this richly layered artwork.

Edinburgh Alphabet: An A-Z of the City’s Collections runs until 8 October 2017. For more information see:

Dr Helen Scott
Curator (Fine Art)
City Art Centre, Edinburgh

60 Years Old and Still Going Strong…

John Blyth Collection of 116 paintings, acquired in 1963 with an NFA grant of £2,000; oil painting, Attack by Sir Robin Philipson, acquired in 1965 with a grant of £157.10s; oil painting, Hillside, Auchtertool, 1969, by Ian Lawson, acquired in 1969 with a grant of £17.10s; oil painting, The Birthplace of Dr Thomas Chalmers, Anstruther, 1834, by A McDougall, acquired in 1973 with a grant of £29; three oil paintings, Interieur Noir, 1950, by William Gear, Still Life with Goblet by Elizabeth Blackadder and Satan Watching the Sleep of Christ, 1874, by Sir Joseph Noel Paton, acquired in 1974 with grants of £137.50, £102.50 and £850 respectively; oil painting, Apocalypse II, c1982, by Neil Dallas Brown, acquired in 1982 with a grant of £700; oil painting, Rain Clouds Over the Forth, 1984-6, by John Houston, acquired  in 1988 with a grant of £1,350; and oil painting, Fent, 2010, by Alison Watt, acquired in 2012 with a grant of £7,000.

The 60th anniversary of the National Fund for Acquisitions has provided the perfect opportunity to display some of the artworks Fife Council Museums has bought with the NFA’s help. Kirkcaldy Galleries is currently displaying nine of these paintings by artists such as Sir Robin Philipson, John Houston, Elizabeth Blackadder and Neil Dallas Brown.

The re-hanging of one painting in particular has delighted the front of house staff – Satan Watching the Sleep of Christ. Painted by Sir Joseph Noel Paton in 1874, it depicts a brooding and somewhat menacing Satan sitting above a sleeping Christ. Christ, dressed in a gown and robes, is painted with his face swathed in light, appearing peaceful and serene. Satan, wearing a crown of fire, is perched on rocks as he glares at Christ beneath him.

Oil painting, 'Satan Watching the Sleep of Christ' by Sir Joseph Noel Paton

Oil painting, ‘Satan Watching the Sleep of Christ’ by Sir Joseph Noel Paton


Paintings on display at the Kirkcaldy Galleries

Paintings on display at the Kirkcaldy Galleries

The NFA has helped us acquire objects for our collections since 1962. One of the biggest and most influential purchases made with the assistance of the Fund was the John Blyth Collection. Blyth was a Kirkcaldy linen manufacturer and an avid collector of art, particularly the works of William McTaggart and S J Peploe. He also collected works by the Glasgow Boys, the Camden Town Group, William Gillies and even L S Lowry. Over the years Blyth lent paintings to the Art Gallery (partly because he ran out of space at home!) and when he died in 1963 over half his collection was hanging in the Gallery. After some negotiation it was agreed that Kirkcaldy Town Council would buy 116 paintings from the family for the town. The NFA and the Art Fund helped Kirkcaldy to acquire the works. Without this acquisition, Kirkcaldy Galleries would not have the fantastic art collection it has today. Some of the paintings from the Blyth Collection are included in the permanent displays at Kirkcaldy Galleries.

S J Peploe, 'Flowers and Fruit' from the J W Blyth Collection

S J Peploe, ‘Flowers and Fruit’ from the John Blyth Collection


Joseph Crawhall, 'Swans' from the J W Blyth Collection

Joseph Crawhall, ‘Swans’ from the John Blyth Collection


William McTaggart, 'Away to the West' from the John Blyth Collection

William McTaggart, ‘Away to the West’ from the John Blyth Collection

Fortunately, with the NFA’s help we can continue to collect significant works with connections to Fife and enhance our collection. The exhibition of nine artworks bought with assistance from the NFA continues until 17th November 2014.

Jane Freel
Museums Curator
Fife Cultural Trust