This major exhibition will explore the work the Scottish artists Robert MacBryde and Robert Colquhoun or ‘The Two Roberts’, as they were known. Friends of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, they took the London art-world by storm in the 1940s, with sell-out exhibitions of their paintings, but by the 1960s their position as two of the country’s most celebrated artists had been eclipsed, and this will be the first major retrospective devoted to their work.
Robert MacBryde was born in Maybole in Ayrshire in 1913, Colquhoun in Kilmarnock in 1914. From poor, working-class backgrounds, they met at Glasgow School of Art in 1933, and soon became lovers. In 1941 they moved to London where they became part of the celebrated Soho set that included artists such as Bacon, Keith Vaughan and John Craxton, and the poets Dylan Thomas and George Barker. Colquhoun specialised in figure painting, MacBryde in still-life. Hard drinking, volatile and uncompromising, their lives were as passionate and compelling as their art.
The Lefevre Gallery on Bond Street held a string of successful shows of their work; the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate acquired paintings. By the mid-1950s they were among the most famous artists working in Britain. But as abstraction became the dominant force in European art in the late 1950s, and as their drinking increased, so their popularity suffered. Colquhoun died penniless in 1962, aged just 47; MacBryde was knocked over by a car and died in 1966. Few artists have catapulted to celebrity or descended into obscurity so swiftly: their remarkable careers lasted scarcely twenty years.