Masterpieces by the Scottish Colourists to Lead Sotheby’s London Sale
LONDON.- On Thursday, 22 April 2010, the first of Sotheby’s biannual London sales of Scottish Pictures in 2010 will include a group of important works by the Scottish Colourists that unequivocally demonstrates the pivotal position occupied by these artists in the formative years of British modernism during the early decades of the twentieth century. The group comprises Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935), Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937), George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931) and John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961), and following extended sojourns in Paris and the South of France, they took the groundbreaking innovations in pictorial space and colour by artists such as Cézanne, Van Gogh and Matisse to forge their own path, continuing to respond to French developments in a way unrivaled by English artists of the period. All of the sale’s offerings will be exhibited at Edinburgh’s Mansfield Traquair between Monday, 12 April and Wednesday, 14 April and this exhibition is open to the public. The auction is expected to bring in the region of £3.2 million.
Peploe strove for three decades to paint the “perfect still life” and the artist’s still lifes are arguably the most celebrated in his oeuvre. Sotheby’s sale will present one of Peploe’s finest. Tulips, estimated at £300,000-500,000, is dated to circa 1912 when he had a studio in Paris. It has a distinguished provenance, having once been owned by David Cargill (1872-1939), who had a notable collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. The Colourists mastered the still life, engaging with its history in French art, from Chardin and Manet and to Cézanne and Matisse. Peploe experimented with a new way of representing pictorial space, and in Tulips he deliberately flattens perspective, encircles objects with dark lines of paint, and emphasises pattern and line, as seen in the stems of the drooping tulips. A second still life by Peploe – entitled Still Life of Fruit – is estimated at £200,000-300,000. The balance and harmony of the composition is strengthened by the broad, colourful and contrasting brushstokes that lead the eye across the surface. Peploe enjoyed exploring the juxtaposition of objects in contrasting planes within the flattened picture space.
An important work by John Duncan Fergusson leads the figure paintings in this group. Estimated at £200,000-300,000, Déjeuner sur l’herbe was executed in Paris in 1929. A synthesis of Fergusson’s late 1920s pre-occupations – the sensual female figure, the nuances of still life arrangement, and the monumental sculptural qualities of the nude – the painting depicts a picnic among the seclusion of trees. Joining the cultural milieu of the Côte d’Azur in the 1920s was a definitive experience for the artist. The Midi cast a spell on Fergusson and the theme of the present work clearly demonstrates the influence of the Fauves, namely the monumental nude figure paintings by Matisse and Derain. However, Fergusson drew on several sources to create compositions uniquely his own. Using sketches made at the Château des Enfants at Antibes, the painting evolved into an astute visualisation of an earthly paradise infused with the energy of life, symbolised by the ripe fruit and the figures’ robust forms, both indicative of fertility. The stance of the woman on the far right, who boldy confronts the viewer with her stare, is a reference to Manet’s famous work by the same title in the Musée d’Orsay. One of the models in Déjeuner sur l’herbe is Fergusson’s partner, the dancer Margaret (Meg) Morris. The sale will include a portrait of her by the artist, entitled At the Bathing Place, Margaret (Meg) Morris, estimated at £80,000-120,000. Against the backdrop of Antibes, Morris is pictured in a large hat that sets off her modelled features. The warm palette and expressive brushwork combine effectively to evoke the sitter’s grace and spirit.
The still life is a recurring theme in the work of George Leslie Hunter and Sotheby’s sale will include a quintessential example. Chrysanthemums, acquired directly from the artist by Dr James Harper of Glasgow and estimated at £200,000-300,000, is a particularly vibrant work marked by a richness of colour and bold composition. The voluptuous forms of the Chinese vase and fruit bowl, and the loose structure of the wilting flowers, make a striking contrast with the formality of the white-painted door panels. Hunter’s assured manipulation of tonal values marks a high point in his mature period. His friend and biographer Tom Honeyman chose this work as one of only six still lifes to illustrate his book on the artist. A second still life by Hunter – entitled Still Life, Fruit and painted in 1926 – is estimated at £100,000-150,000.
It was not only to France that these artists travelled. Italy too provided a gravitational pull. The unique quality of light in Venice, espoused by artists for generations since Turner, adds immeasurable appeal to a scene of Edwardian gentility by Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell. Florian’s Café, Venice depicts a trio of elegantly dressed ladies in hats taking a rest from sightseeing at the famous café. Cadell’s first trip to Venice was made in 1910 when he was encouraged by the patron Patrick Ford who sponsored the visit. The effect was dramatic, from the liquid fluidity of his brushwork to the confident transposition of vivid Mediterranean colours – the ideal inspiration for a natural colourist – in the brilliant sunshine. Florian’s Café, Venice is a superb example of the speed and dash that Cadell so admired in other artists. Estimated at £100,000-150,000, the painting was given as a gift, possibly as payment in lieu of a medical bill, to the greatgrandfather of the present owner.
Sotheby’s sale will feature another café scene, in this instance depicting a fashionable Parisian establishment, by Anne Estelle Rice (1877-1959). Entitled Jeune Femme au Chapeau Assise dans un Café, the picture is an unusual subject for the artist (est. £50,000-70,000). Proving to have a sharp social eye – inherited from her time as an illustrator of bourgeois society – Rice depicts a solitary female figure who confronts the viewer with an austere gaze. The influence of Manet is clear yet another great influence in Rice’s work was that of Fergusson, whom she met in France. He significantly informed her work, evident here in the loose and energetic brushwork and vibrant colours. As a result, Rice has arguably come to be regarded as the most talented female associate of the Scottish Colourists.
Three still lifes by Anne Redpath (1895-1965) invite comparison with the Scottish Colourists. White and Yellow Tulips in a Blue and White Jug, estimated at £80,000-120,000, is similar in composition and subject matter to the work of Peploe in the later 1920s, in particular his series of paintings of tulips. Tulips were one of Redpath’s favourite flowers and in the present work, largely composed of subtle and harmonic blues and whites, Redpath counterbalances these cool tones with the use of delicate yellow in the petals of the tulip flowers. Probably painted in the late 1930s or early 1940s, following Redpath’s return to Scotland from France, this work dates to the most productive and spontaneous period of her career – generally regarded as Redpath’s most successful – and demonstrates the importance of subtle colouring in her work from the 1930s. Still Life with Summer Flowers (est. £70,000-100,000) also employs a predominantly white, monochrome palette with restrained touches of colour, a technique the artist felt lent other colours an intensity. In Michaelmass Daises (est. £80,000-120,000), Redpath adopts an elevated viewpoint looking down on to the table. Subverting the classical tradition of still life painting with a steeply angled perspective, the artist’s bold experiment with the picture plane recalls Cézanne, in particular the table cloth that threatens to fall off in the lower left hand corner.
The sale will also be highlighted by a Self-Portrait by Anne Redpath, painted circa 1940, estimated at £20,000-30,000, a landscape by Joan Eardley (1921-1963) entitled Summer Evening (est. £20,000-30,000), and three sketches by Eardley of working men and a baby estimated at £5,000-7,000 each.