With the latest Government advice to 'Stay Home' this Easter weekend due to the Coronavirus lockdown, Alice Strang, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, brings the great outdoors inside through works in the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection.
We start on the east coast, in Aberdeenshire, with Joan Eardley's painting Summer Fields of about 1961. Eardley was born in Sussex and trained at Glasgow School of Art. In 1954 she bought a cottage in Catterline, a fishing village south of Aberdeen, where she was inspired by her natural surroundings.
Painted outdoors, Eardley picked some of the grass around her and applied it to the wet oil paint on her hardboard. This enhances a sense of realism in a work which otherwise hovers between abstraction and representation.
Eardley’s sensuous response to nature is clear in her expressive application of paint and use of warm colours to convey the sun’s heat on a glorious summer’s day.
Next, we travel south to the borders, and William Gillies' painting The Peebles Train of about 1950. Gillies was born in Haddington, near Edinburgh and studied at Edinburgh College of Art. In 1939 he moved to the village of Temple, not far from Peebles.
He travelled around the countryside on his motorbike, painting the Scottish landscape in all seasons. In this work, all the natural and man-made elements of the scene, from hills to bushes and borders, converge on the train at the centre. Caught emerging from the left, its puffs of smoke are silhouetted against the fields rising away in the distance. It merges with, rather than disturbs, the idyllic scene presented to us.
Ian Cheyne takes us north to Perthshire with Beeches in Glen Lyon, a colour woodcut on paper of 1937. Cheyne was born in Broughty Ferry in 1895 and studied at Glasgow School of Art. He is celebrated for his mastery of the woodcut technique, in which he primarily depicted Scottish, Spanish and French landscapes.
In this scene, the autumnal flaming red leaves of the beech trees in Glen Lyon, Scotland’s longest enclosed glen, take centre stage. A magnificent example in the middle ground dominates the image, but a pathway and further trees lead us into the distance. A gently serrated depiction of form heightens the curvaceousness of the lie of the land, the branches and the clouds. This image is unified and gives an impression of movement and rhythm, as we are invited to join the artist on his walk.
Finally, Samuel John Peploe takes us west to the Inner Hebrides in his painting Iona Landscape, Rocks of the mid-1920s. Peploe was born in Edinburgh in 1871 and studied at the Royal Scottish Academy Life School. In 1920, his fellow Scottish Colourist F. C. B. Cadell took him to Iona for the first time and Peploe returned there virtually every year until 1935. As shown in this painting, he was particularly interested in the rocks and sands of the north end of the island and the views from it, especially of Ben More on nearby Mull.
Peploe’s rigorous rendering of the rocks in the foreground echoes the majesty of Ben More in the distance. However, the more gentle handling of the sandy shores and translucency of the sea tempt us to kick off our shoes and go for a paddle, if not a swim.
Whilst we cannot enjoy the great outdoors at the moment, it is waiting for us when we can.