On Growth and Form – 100 years on and still growing

Limestone sculpture, In the Beginning, 2009, by Peter Randall-Page and digital c-print, Trifolium repens L.- top view – No.10, 2016, by Macoto Murayama, acquired in 2013 and 2016 by the University of Dundee Museum Collections with NFA grants of £15,000 and £1,267 respectively.

The University of Dundee has a long history of encouraging collaboration between art and science, going back to its origins in the 1880s when two of its most notable professors, D’Arcy Thompson (1860-1948), Professor of Biology, and Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), Professor of Botany, were pioneering visual thinkers who worked regularly with both scientists and artists. The art critic Herbert Read later told Thompson: ‘you have built the bridge between art and science’.

One of the most significant collections held by the University is that of the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum, comprising the surviving natural history specimens and teaching aids of the internationally renowned polymath. D’Arcy’s collection was used not only in teaching his students but also in researching his landmark book On Growth and Form, published one hundred years ago, which pioneered the new science of mathematical biology. Described as ‘the greatest work of prose in twentieth century science’, the book has had a huge influence in many fields. It showed that the complexity of nature can be understood through basic mathematical and physical laws and that living organisms are not static but constantly affected by the forces acting upon them. This has profoundly influenced many artists including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Richard Hamilton, Jackson Pollock and Salvador Dali.

Over the past few years, the University has been building a collection of significant artworks inspired by D’Arcy Thompson’s ideas and collections, two of which have been grant-aided by the National Fund for Acquisitions.

The renowned British sculptor Peter Randall-Page RA (b1954) discovered On Growth and Form as an art student. His practice has always been informed and inspired by the study of natural phenomena, particularly the underlying principles determining growth. In his words ‘geometry is the theme on which nature plays her infinite variations’. With help from the NFA and the Art Fund, we were able to acquire his large-scale sculpture In the Beginning, which evokes cells multiplying within an expanding membrane. The sculpture is sited at the modern entrance to the University’s 19th-century Carnelley Building and can be visited by the public during normal working hours.

Peter Randall-Page sculpture installed

Limestone sculpture, In the Beginning, 2009, by Peter Randall-Page. University of Dundee Museum Services © the artist

 

Although the work of Japanese artist Macoto Murayama (b1984) takes a very different form, he too takes the mathematics of nature as his starting point. He has become internationally known for his exquisitely beautiful botanical artworks which he terms ‘inorganic flora’. These extraordinary images are created after minutely dissecting real flowers and studying them under a microscope. His drawings are then modelled in 3D imaging software and rendered into 2D compositions before being printed in large scale. The print we acquired is from a series showing white clover, Trifolium repens, and was created for an exhibition of his work we held in 2016.

Trifolium repens L.-top view-No.10

Digital c-print, Trifolium repens L.- top view – No 10, 1916, by Macoto Murayama. University of Dundee Museum Services © the artist

 

Macoto’s stunning print was one of almost 100 artworks from our D’Arcy Thompson art collection shown earlier this year in A Sketch of the Universe: Art, Science and the Influence of D’Arcy Thompson at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh. The exhibition kicked off a year of celebrations for the centenary of On Growth and Form, including events in New York, Amsterdam and London, culminating in a major conference and exhibition in Dundee in October. Further details can be found at www.ongrowthandform.org

Matthew Jarron
Curator of Museum Services
University of Dundee

www.dundee.ac.uk/museum

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: http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/Venues/City-Art-Centre/Exhibitions/2017-18/Edinburgh-Alphabet

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

http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/

A Stalker’s Reward

Hip flask and ghillie’s knife belonging to Donald and Alec Urquhart, stalkers on the Inverewe and Letterewe Estates, acquired by Gairloch Heritage Museum in 2016 with an NFA grant of £200.

Osgood Hanbury Mackenzie (b1842) was the third son of Francis, 12th Laird of Gairloch and founder of the world famous Inverewe Garden. Osgood and his daughter Mairi, who inherited Inverewe and left it to the National Trust for Scotland, employed local families for the garden and to service the hunting, shooting and fishing on the wider estate which was their main source of income. One of those who spent all his life in the hills in their service was Donald Urquhart of Poolewe. In his memoir, A Hundred Years in the Highlands (1921), Osgood referred several times to his ‘old friend’ Donald whom he praised as a valued servant and prolific stalker.

Duncan Urquhart, Stalker Inverewe 001Donald Urquhart of Poolewe

When Donald retired in December 1927 his eldest son Alec was appointed to take his place as gamekeeper on the estate where he remained until 1939. He later worked on the Letterewe Estate for the Whitbread family and the Marquis of Zetland.  Alec’s obituary in 1977 speaks of his uprightness, intelligence and physique and his knowledge of ‘old ways’ and hard work.

Alec UrquhartAlexander (Alec) Urquhart

In the summer of 2016 the opportunity arose for both Gairloch Heritage Museum and the National Trust for Scotland at Inverewe to acquire items associated with the Urquhart family, including photographs, family papers and a signed first edition of Osgood Mackenzie’s book. The two finest objects in the collection, an engraved silver hip flask and a rare ghillie’s knife, cast light on the relationship between the Urqhuarts and their employers.

P1070381Knife made by Holtzapffel & Co, London

The knife, made of spring steel with a nickel coated frame, dates from the First World War period. Its construction is unusual – the sides open laterally through 180 degrees with a hinged latch fastener at the head for holding them firm in both open and closed positions. The maker was the London firm of Holtzapffel & Co which, though best known for tools and lathes, also made high quality gentleman’s accessories. A catalogue entry dating from 1923 tells us that the knife cost 25 shillings, more than the average agricultural worker’s weekly wage.  It is likely to have been a highly valued gift to Donald from his employer.  Ron Flook’s London Knife Book records only four examples of this type of knife.  (The London Knife Book: An A-Z Guide to London Cutlers 1820-1945. London, 2008).

P1070382Sterling silver, glass and crocodile skin hip flask, 1922, made by G & J W Hawksley, Sheffield

While the accompanying hip flask is not particularly rare or unique, it is a very nice example of its kind and well preserved. The flask is made of sterling silver and glass with a crocodile leather skin shoulder mount. The bayonet fit lid and pull-off cup base are of silver with gold-gilt interior. The hallmarks show that the flask was made in 1922 by G & J W Hawksley of Sheffield, silversmiths and manufacturers of dram bottles and powder flasks. It is the inscription and accompanying letter, however, that make this such a wonderful acquisition for the collection at Gairloch. The flask is engraved with the following inscription:

ALEXANDER URQUHART
FROM
HUMPHREY WHITBREAD
IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF
19TH SEPTEMBER 1947
ON
LITTLE BEINN THARSUINN
15ST. 12LBS – 13 POINTS: 15ST. 11LBS – HUMMEL

In the accompanying letter, Whitbread writes of a happy day on the hill during which, with Alec’s help, he bagged a thirteen pointer stag and a very large hummel (an antlerless stag). He feels he will never again have such results and offers the hip flask as a reminder of a remarkable day.

3. Urquhart x 2 + Lord KnutsfordLeft to right: Alec Urquhart, Lord Knutsford and Donald Urquhart with a dead deer

Gairloch Heritage Museum is delighted to acquire these two objects which, with the papers, photographs and other items that accompanied them, represent a relationship of mutual esteem between landlord and tenant.

Dr Karen Buchanan
Curator
Gairloch Heritage Museum

www.gairlochheritagemuseum.org

Brigadier George Pigot-Moodie: A Distinguished Service

The Orders, Decorations and Medals of Brigadier George Frederick Arthur Pigot-Moodie OstJ, MC (1888-1959), acquired in 2016 by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum with an NFA grant of £3,750.

In late 2016 the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum acquired the collection of orders, decorations and medals of Brigadier George Frederick Arthur Pigot-Moodie, OstJ, MC, who served with the 2nd Dragoons (The Royal Scots Greys) from 1908 to 1938.

IMG_4648 - alteredAbove: Brigadier Pigot-Moodie’s decorations ‘court-mounted’ on a bar-brooch. From left to right:

  • Military Cross 1915
  • Badge of an Officer (Brother) of the Order of St John 1952
  • 1914 Star (‘Mons Star’) with clasp ‘5th August-22nd November’
  • British War Medal 1914-20
  • Allied Victory Medal 1914-19 with Oak Leaf (signifying Mention in Dispatches)
  • King George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935
  • King George VI Coronation Medal 1937
  • Russian Order of St Anne, 2nd Class, with swords, 1915

 

George Pigot-Moodie was born in Cape Colony, South Africa, on 3 November 1888 to Scottish parents. The young George was sent to Britain to be educated at Harrow School followed by the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. George was commissioned into the 2nd Dragoons (The Royal Scots Greys) from RMC Sandhurst on 19 September 1908.

At the outbreak of the First World War Pigot-Moodie, by then a lieutenant, mobilised with the Greys and departed for France from York on 15 August 1914. He was the Regiment’s machine-gun officer, commanding twenty-nine other ranks armed with three Maxim machine-guns. The Greys were part of the 5th Cavalry Brigade of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The 5th Cavalry Brigade was deployed as part of the BEF’s withdrawal, subsequently known as the march ‘Mons to the Marne’ (23 August- 5 September 1914). On 22 August Lieutenant Pigot-Moodie demonstrated the effectiveness of well concealed machine-guns:

Pte. Dykes (Greys) met a patrol of 17 men. Hiding in a wood, the men were allowed to pass. Suddenly Lieut. Pigot-Moodie opened on them with his machine guns at a range of about a mile, and with the first burst hit every man.

For his services in the early engagements of the war Lieutenant Pigot-Moodie was among thirteen of all ranks of the Greys mentioned in dispatches by the commander of the BEF, Sir John French, on 8 October 1914.

On 1 January 1915 a new decoration for bravery was established, the Military Cross (MC), reserved for junior officers and warrant officers. Lieutenant Pigot-Moodie was the first officer of the 2nd Dragoons and the first from any of the antecedent regiments of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards to receive the award; indeed, he was one of the first in the British Army to receive it.

Pigot-Moodie 1915 - alteredAbove: Captain George Frederick Arthur Pigot-Moodie on the Western Front, 1915

 

In 1915 Lieutenant Pigot-Moodie’s distinguished service, represented by his MC and mention in dispatches, was recognised by the Regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, by the award of the 2nd Class of the Order of St Anne, with swords. Pigot-Moodie was among a number of all ranks of the Greys to be awarded Russian decorations for gallantry and brave conduct on 24 September 1915.

On 16 October 1915 Pigot-Moodie was promoted substantive captain, on secondment from the Regiment. Almost a year later, on 3 September, he was promoted temporary major and, owing to his previous experience, was placed in command of a Machine-Gun School within the newly-formed Machine-Gun Corp. Within a month, on 11 November 1916, Pigot-Moodie was promoted temporary lieutenant-colonel in the Machine-Gun Corps (Infantry).

Pigot-Moodie received his second Mention in Dispatches on 13 November 1916 in a dispatch from the BEF’s commander, Sir Douglas Haig. From 1917 Pigot-Moodie served with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) as part of XX Corps as a Corps Machine-Gun Officer. His third Mention in Despatches was in March 1919 from the commander of the EEF, Sir Edmund Allenby.

With the Armistice declared on 11 November 1918, Pigot-Moodie left the disbanding Machine-Gun Corps, relinquished his temporary rank of lieutenant-colonel and returned to the 2nd Dragoons, reverting to the rank of captain.

On 1 October 1932 Pigot-Moodie was promoted lieutenant-colonel to command The Royal Scots Greys, a post which he held for four years. In mid-1934, in order to raise the profile of the Regiment in its native Scotland and as an aid to recruiting, Pigot-Moodie led 21 officers and 250 men, 200 grey horses and the Regiment’s supporting motor transport on a 470-mile march through the country.

IMG_4643Above: Lieutenant-Colonel Pigot-Moodie pictured with his personal trumpeter during the 470-mile ride of the Royal Scots Greys in Scotland, July – August, 1934

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Pigot-Moodie relinquished command of the Regiment in Aldershot on 1 October 1936 and was promoted to the rank of colonel on the same day. Colonel Pigot-Moodie joined the list of officers on the Half Pay List pending further employment before moving to the Retired List in August 1938.

During the Second World War Colonel Pigot-Moodie appears to have been re-employed, possibly commanding a Pioneer Brigade in Eastern Command between 1944-45, though details of this are vague and await further research. He was finally retired and promoted to the honorary rank of Brigadier on 29 December 1945. In about 1952 it is thought Brigadier Pigot-Moodie returned to South Africa or Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He died in South Africa on 14 June 1959.

Brigadier Pigot-Moodie’s orders, decorations and medals will be put on temporary display prior to forming part of a permanent display on the First World War in the planned large-scale refurbishment of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum galleries.

 

Paul Newman
Assistant Curator
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys) Regimental Museum

Stephen Wood MSA, FSA
Curatorial Adviser

www.scotsdgmuseum.com

A Waterloo Pistol?

A 1796 pattern Other Ranks heavy cavalry pistol acquired by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum in 2015 with an NFA grant of £4,000.

1796 Other Ranks Heavy Cavalry pistol of the 2nd (or Royal North British) Dragoons, c1800

1796 pattern Other Ranks heavy cavalry pistol of the 2nd (or Royal North British) Dragoons

In 2015, the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum acquired a pistol which has particular significance for the collection. Regimental markings on the trigger guard link the pistol to the 2nd (or Royal North British) Dragoons, better known as The Royal Scots Greys, which is one of the regiments whose history is interpreted by the museum. The Greys formed part of the ‘Union’ cavalry brigade at the battle and, at a critical moment, charged into columns of French infantry, wreaking havoc and halting their advance upon the British and Allied line. During that charge, the Greys’ Sergeant Charles Ewart captured the standard and Eagle of the French 45th Infantry Regiment: both standard and Eagle are preserved in the regimental museum today.

Pistol 1

Detail showing the engraving of Regimental markings on the trigger guard

The pistol is of the type that would have formed part of the personal side-arms of soldiers of the 2nd Dragoons at the Battle of Waterloo. It is a single-shot, muzzle-loading, flintlock weapon with a calibre of 16 bore. This type of pistol was issued singly to Other Ranks (enlisted men) and was carried in a heavy leather holster fastened to the front of the soldier’s saddle on the off-side. It had a maximum effective range of about 50 yards but was most deadly when its lead ball was fired at very close range into the body, or horse, of an adversary.

Paul Newman
Assistant Curator
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers & Greys) Regimental Museum

http://www.scotsdgmuseum.com/

 

 

 

Heavy Metal and the Natural World

Six pieces of jewellery and a silver and enamel pill box by Norman Grant acquired by Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums in 2015 with an NFA grant of £1,587.

In May 2014 I wrote a post on a brooch and pendant by North East Scotland’s own Norman Grant, acquired for our collection with NFA funding.

All that glisters is not gold … it’s very often silver

With our increased knowledge about the pieces Grant created, and access to his original sketchbooks and designs, we have acquired seven other examples of Grant’s beautiful enamelled work, again with NFA support.

Norman Grant was born in Forres, Moray in 1943 and studied at Gray’s School of Art in the 1960s. He was a student of David Hodge who established a goldsmithing and jewellery course at Gray’s in 1954, leading the department until he retired in 1975. Hodge remembered Grant as one of the students who made his teaching career memorable.

In the late 1960s Grant began to design jewellery, initially working in a shed in his garden. His preferred medium was translucent enamel which he combined with sterling silver. The comparatively low cost of materials enabled him to be experimental in his work while keeping the cost to the customer reasonably low. Knowing that to be successful he had to sell, Grant showed examples of his work to local jewellers and was surprised when all the pieces sold in one morning. Right away Grant found himself working full time to complete orders and within a year the popularity of his work was assured. With its psychedelic colours and Pop Art patterns, his jewellery reflected the fashion and style of the period.

Having initially studied graphic design before switching to silversmithing, Grant often maintained that he was influenced by the natural forms of the coastal landscape he had grown up with. Inevitably these influences found their way into his early jewellery designs; microscopic plant cell structures, petals, stamens, seed heads, trees, driftwood, shells, seaweed, anemone-like forms and later fish, wave and cloud motifs can all be seen in his work.

Gold and Moss Agate Frog and Lily Pad Pendant

‘Gold and Moss Agate Frog and Lily Pad Pendant’ by Norman Grant

Gold and Moss Agate Frog and Lily Pad Pendant is an example of Grant’s later work and reflects his love of the natural world. Not only does the pendant incorporate a frog and lily pad but the pond is made from a piece of pale moss agate. Scottish moss agates are primarily found in Fife where Grant’s workshop was established, forging another link with the geology of the area. The pendant and chain are made of gold although Grant worked predominantly in silver during this period.

Stickleback Motif Blue Pendant

‘Stickleback Motif Blue Pendant’ by Norman Grant

Often Grant’s designs were made up in the workshop by one of his silversmiths but we know that Stickleback Motif Blue Pendant was made by Grant himself. Grant’s original design brochures feature this pendant as design number PG17. The piece is finished in vitreous glass (kiln-fired) enamel in translucent shades of cobalt, aqua, and sky blue set within the silver cells which form the abstract outline of a stickleback fish and give the pendant a kaleidoscopic effect.

Rockpool and Reflections Pendant

‘Rock Pool and Reflections Pendant’ by Norman Grant

Rock Pool and Reflections Pendant, made in 1978, is a variation on the theme of ‘organic’ designs. We now know that the ‘silver and enamel pendant’ featured in my last post should more correctly be called Rock Pool Pendant. The two are linked in their circular form, redolent of areas of sea water contained by the rocks around them.

Eight Enamel Panelled Necklet

‘Eight Enamel Panelled Necklet’ (‘Mexican Blanket’ series) by Norman Grant

Eight Enamel Panelled Necklet is part of the ‘Mexican Blanket’ series which also includes the enamel brooch discussed in my previous post. It has been a very rewarding process to work with some of the original design sources in order to positively identify the prototypes. The series derives from the traditional Mexican saltillo (or serape) blanket design which dates back to the Chichimeca people of pre-colonial times. The necklet is formed of eight irregular panels of coloured enamel with silver borders and seven ball and chain features suspended below. The pendant is attached to a thin silver torque. It was made in 1972 at a time when Mexican culture was becoming increasingly popular as a result of the social, political and cultural Chicano Movement.

Silver and Titanium Parrot Pendant

‘Silver and Titanium Parrot Pendant’ by Norman Grant

Silver and Titanium Parrot Pendant is from Grant’s ‘Titanium Futuristic Jewellery’ collection of the late 1970s and early ’80s which included pendants, earrings, brooches and bangles. This is very different in style to his earlier work. Titanium jewellery became fashionable during this period as designers sought to move away from more traditional metals. Developed for use in the aerospace industry, titanium is a light, strong metal that can be anodized to create a variety of vivid colours. This is achieved by passing an electric current through the metal. The parrot was one of the most difficult pieces of titanium jewellery made by Grant owing to its curved and uneven surface which exacerbated the difficulty of making titanium adhere to silver. Later titanium pieces by Grant are often unmarked and can only be identified by style. The parrot pendant, however, bears Grant’s ‘NG’ punch mark.

Silver and Enamel Pill Box

‘Silver and Enamel Pill Box’ by Norman Grant

This small pill box is one of a limited edition. The decorative enamel lid suggests a cross-section of a plant, the granulated orange and pink sections similar to the cells of a seed head.

Honesty Brooch/Pendant

‘Honesty Brooch/Pendant’ by Norman Grant

Similarly, Honesty Brooch/Pendant illustrates Grant’s fascination with plant life. Whereas the structured lines or septa of the pill box are formed of grey enamel, the septa on the brooch forming the structure of the cross-section are slightly raised ridges of silver, the enamel poured in around them.

Support from the National Fund for Acquisitions has allowed us to continue to acquire pieces by this creative and highly individual designer and to increase our knowledge of his design methods, his breadth of style and the ideas which inspired him.

 

Vikki Duncan
Curator of Decorative Art
Aberdeen Art Gallery

http://www.aagm.co.uk/

Sir Robin Philipson

The year 2016 marks the centenary of the birth of Sir Robin Philipson (1916-1992), one of Scotland’s most celebrated and distinguished artists. Between 1965 and 1996 the National Fund for Acquisitions supported the purchase of artworks by Philipson for eight Scottish collections. They range in date from 1958 to 1987 and include oil paintings, a gouache design for a poster for the Edinburgh International Festival and a design for a tapestry.

Born in Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria, Philipson moved to Scotland with his family in 1930 at the age of 14, settling in Gretna and becoming a pupil at Dumfries Academy. He went on to study at Edinburgh College of Art from 1936 to 1940. By the time he graduated Britain was at war and Philipson joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, seeing action in India and Burma. Philipson’s wartime experience had a profound influence on his art and two of the paintings acquired with NFA support explore this theme.

Fallen Soldier

Oil on canvas, Fallen Soldier, c1966, acquired by Paisley Museum in 1966 with a grant of £125 (NFA.2774). Picture credit: Paisley Museum, Renfrewshire Council. © The Artist’s Estate.

 

The Attack

Oil on canvas, The Attack, 1961, acquired by Fife Council in 1965 with a grant of £157.10s (NFA.1147). Picture credit: Fife Cultural Trust (Kirkcaldy Galleries) on behalf of Fife Council. © The Artist’s Estate.

In 1965 Philipson wrote to the curator of Kirkcaldy Art Gallery, William Hood, with a fascinating account of the inspiration behind The Attack. He described the execution as both difficult and exciting because he was ‘discovering the expressive possibilities of a new way of painting’. He went on to explain how he found inspiration in the tone and colour of photographs and how he contrasted the powerful image of the dead soldier in the foreground with the vignette in the upper right corner of the canvas which depicts ‘a battle scene as portrayed in the grand manner by a 19th century French painter’. Philipson’s message was essentially pacifist; the key to reading the painting lies in the contrast between these images. ‘I had hoped’, he wrote, ‘the observer would be able to read simultaneously the irreconcilability of the glorious vision and the terrible reality’. (Letter from Philipson to William Hood, dated 16 November 1965, Fife Cultural Trust Collection).

After the war Philipson returned to Edinburgh where he undertook a teacher training course at Moray House. He joined the staff of Edinburgh College of Art in 1947, first as a librarian then lecturer, eventually succeeding William Gillies (1898-1973) as Head of School of Drawing and Painting in 1960, a post he held until he retired in 1982. Philipson belonged to the Edinburgh School, a loose grouping of artists many of whom had studied and/or taught at Edinburgh College of Art. They included Gillies, John Maxwell (1905-1962) and Anne Redpath (1895-1965).

The earliest of the artworks acquired with NFA support was a design for a poster for the Edinburgh International Festival.

Design for a poster for the Edinburgh International Festival

Gouache on paper, Design for a Poster for the Edinburgh Festival, 1959, acquired by Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums in 1996 with an NFA grant of £1,100 (NFA.711). Picture credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections. © The Artist’s Estate.

Although the composition, featuring the Scott Monument and a drummer, was used for Philipson’s poster for the 1958 Festival, he changed the date to 1959, perhaps suggesting that he considered reusing the design the following year. Certain themes emerged in Philipson’s work: war, cockfighting, church interiors, a series of paintings depicting the Crucifixion. An example of the latter, in the unusual medium of oil, tempera and gesso on canvas, was acquired by Dundee City Council with NFA support in 1980.

Crucifixion

Oil, tempera and gesso on canvas, Crucifixion, 1960/80, acquired by Dundee City Council in 1980 with a grant of £625 (NFA.3011). Picture credit: Dundee City Council (Dundee’s Art Galleries and Museums). © The Artist’s Estate.

Although Philipson originally painted Crucifixion in 1966, he worked on it again in 1980, changing the blue palette of the original by adding yellow sections to either side of the rose window and darkening the ground behind Christ to shades of grey and brown. Crucifixion was intended to be hung above eye level, forcing the viewer to look up at the tortured figure of Christ, emphasising the suffering conveyed in the splayed fingers, stretched arms and tormented face. The painting also conveys Philipson’s interest in ecclesiastical architecture which he explored in a series of church and cathedral interiors. These are often characterised by a bold use of colour and heavy impasto. The NFA supported the acquisition of an example from this series, Iconostasis, for the collection of Lillie Art Gallery.

Iconostasis

Oil on canvas, Iconostasis, c1973, acquired by East Dunbartonshire Council in 1974 with a grant of £450 (NFA.1714). Picture credit: Lillie Art Gallery, Milngavie, East Dunbartonshire Leisure & Culture Trust. © The Artist’s Estate

Titles occur and recur in Philipson’s work. The word ‘threnody’, which refers to a poem, song or speech of lamentation, is included in the titles of a number of paintings including Threnody Meeting which was acquired with NFA support by the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in 1970.

Threnody Meeting (detail)

Detail of oil on canvas, Threnody Meeting, acquired by the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in 1970 with an NFA grant of £190 (NFA.1391). Picture credit: The Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum. © The Artist’s Estate.

In spite of Philipson’s teaching commitments and his public roles – he was President of the Royal Scottish Academy from 1973 to 1983 and was knighted for service to the arts in Scotland in 1976 – he was a prolific artist who constantly explored the boundaries of his art, pushing himself to achieve better expression and greater technical mastery. He believed that to be an outstanding teacher it was essential to be a practising artist, fully engaged with his art.

In 1983, just after Philipson retired from Edinburgh College of Art and stepped down from his role as President of the Royal Scottish Academy, his role in Edinburgh’s artistic life was recognised by the acquisition of a painting for the city collection.

Zebra

Oil on canvas, Zebra, acquired by City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries in 1983 with a grant of £975 (NFA.4077). Picture credit: City Art Centre, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries. © The Artist’s Estate.

The painting marked a new departure in Philipson’s work, captured in a statement prepared for the Jean F Watson committee in support of the acquisition:

A new departure in the last year has been the artist’s interest in pictures within paintings. Zebra is the first in this series, uniting elements such as an animal painting with the accoutrements of a studio, allowing a combination of details which would otherwise be unusual. Levels of reality suddenly appear and coexist in the tradition of baroque painting.

The subject was inspired by a travelling scholarship which Philipson undertook to South Africa and Kenya in 1976. The zebra was to appear again in a tapestry woven by the Edinburgh Tapestry Company after a painting in Philipson’s Humankind series.

Humankind

Cotton warp and wool tapestry, Humankind, 1988, interpretation of an original design by Sir Robin Philipson, woven by the Edinburgh Tapestry Company. Acquired by Glasgow Museums in 1992 with a grant of £8,312 (NFA.3843). Picture credit: CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection. © Dovecot Tapestry Studio.

Philipson wrote of the title that it ‘needs to stir a train of thought by its sound as much as its sense. The name ‘Human Kind’ – all kind involving humankind – was proposed by George Bruce, hoping, as he says, that a word will take the viewer into the painting’s heart’ (Robin Philipson Retrospective, Edinburgh College of Art exhibition catalogue, 1989). The specific theme of this painting is apartheid, set within the landscape of South Africa and showing the love of a white boy for a black girl.

The tapestry was woven by master weavers of the Edinburgh Tapestry Company, David Cochrane, Shirley Gatt, Harry Wright and Johnny Wright. Professor James More, Managing Director of the Edinburgh Tapestry Company from 1987-1993, described the dynamic and creative relationship which grew between weavers and artist and it’s worth quoting in full for the insight it gives into this distinct creative process:

The quality of this wonderful tapestry arises from the robust and enthusiastic relationship that developed then, between the master weavers and Sir Robin, and their shared commitment to producing a vibrant work in tapestry that responded to the nature and the passion of the painting, the ideas it represented and the way in which they were portrayed. The tapestry took on a life of its own. It began and continued to develop through rich and detailed discussions between the artist and the weavers about the abounding, opulent diversity of colour, shape and texture; the psychology of seeing, sensitivity and understanding; the perceptions of cultural sensibilities; and the politics of art. Yarn and woven sample trials were produced and, while the original painting was available for a very short time, work progressed in relation to exceptionally good slides and Sir Robin’s frequent visits.

(From Elizabeth Cumming (ed), The Art of Modern Tapestry, Dovecot Studios Since 1912. London: Lund Humphries Ltd, 2012.)

The subject of the painting expresses the humanity evident in Philipson’s work throughout each phase of his long and successful career as both a teacher and artist. It is worth noting that Glasgow City Council chose this work from its collection to send to the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in July 2005 as an expression of support for the aims of the 31st summit which focused on debt relief and aid for Africa.

 

Dr Hazel Williamson
National Fund for Acquisitions Manager
National Museums Scotland

With thanks to Lady Diana Philipson for permission to reproduce the artworks.

The painting Fallen Soldier will be included in the exhibition Gesture – Expression in Modern Art at Paisley Museum, 16 July – 1 November 2016. http://www.renfrewshireleisure.com/paisleymuseum/

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