A group of Scottish painters comprising S.J. Peploe, F.C.B. Cadell, Leslie Hunter and J.D. Fergusson who were active in the early twentieth century. They all spent time in France and were influenced by French artists’ bold use of colour and free brushwork.
Who were the Scottish Colourists?
The term ‘Scottish Colourists’ describes four Scottish painters, Samuel John Peploe, F.C.B. Cadell, G.L Hunter and J.D. Fergusson, a set of radical artist in their day who enlivened the Scottish art scene with the fresh vibrancy of French Fauvist colours. Although the name suggests they were all living and working together in Scotland, they were not a close knit group with a specific set of aims, and only exhibited together on three occasions while they were all still alive.
It was not until 1950 that the group were linked together, initially by art historian T.J. Honeyman in his book Three Scottish Colourists, 1950, bringing together Peploe, Cadell and Hunter; by the 1980s the group had expanded to include Fergusson.
The French Connection
Each Scottish Colourist had his own set of specific goals and aims, but between them the four also shared much common ground. They were all born in Scotland in the 1870s to middle class families, and at various different times each visited France to experience the burgeoning avant-garde first hand, returning to Scotland brimming with new ideas. Influences came from Manet, the Impressionists, Cezanne, Matisse and the Fauves, with the Colourists exploring modulations of light, shade and atmospheric effects, often through painting en plein air.
Three of the four members first received formal art training in Edinburgh; Peploe and Fergusson both studied at the Trustees Academy, while Cadell was taught at the Royal Scottish Academy Life School. But it seemed each was frustrated with the traditional conservatism of the teaching they received, and perhaps even with their surrounding environment. Historian Sian Reynolds has spent time studying the cultural differences between Edinburgh and Paris at the turn of the century, observing:
“Edinburgh’s reputation at the turn of the century (was) a staid, climactically bracing, Presbyterian and puritanical city, bristling with well-frequented churches, and peopled with ministers, lawyers, academics and doctors …Morningside was never likely to be mistaken for Montparnasse.”
The Glasgow School was the dominant style in Scotland at the time, with its Realist focus on traditional rural scenes, yet influences from Constable, Turner and French Impressionism had already begun to filter through in artists such as William McTaggart.
Fergusson, who is often considered the leader of the group, first visited Paris in the 1890s and his experience of the avant-garde stayed with him. He later wrote:
“Something new had started and I was very much intrigued. But there was no language for it that made sense in Edinburgh and London – an expression like the ‘logic of line’ meant something that it couldn’t mean in Edinburgh.”
Three of the Colourists, Fergusson, Peploe and Cadell all spent time studying at the Academie Julian in Paris as young artists, a popular institution with expatriate students. The influence of French painting stayed with them all. Cadell was particularly drawn to Manet’s work, a seen in the bold, flat areas of dark colour of Portrait of a Lady in Black, 1921, Peploe developed a distinctive approach to landscape and still life painting influenced by Cezanne and Japonisme, exploring geometric planes of colour and strong outlines, seen in Iona Landscape, Rocks, 1925-27 and Pink Roses, Chinese Vase, 1947. Fergusson was attracted to the brighter colours and expressive language of Fauvism, seen in his outdoor study, Rue St Jacques, 1907 and the larger painting La Terrasse, Cafe d’Harcourt, 1908-9.
Hunter is often referred to as the black sheep of the group; although born in Scotland he was largely self-taught during his youth in the United States. He travelled to France from San Francisco in the 1900s with a group of young artists before returning to live in Scotland. In France he was particularly drawn to the fleeting effects of light in French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting, with the influences exemplified in his Reflections, Balloch, 1929-30.
Each of the Scottish Colourists achieved recognition during their lifetimes but fell out of favour by World War II, before being rediscovered fully in the 1950s. By the 1980s they were widely recognised for their contribution to Scottish art, fusing elements of Scottish heritage and the Glasgow School style with various aspects of the Parisian avant-garde. In doing so they breathed new life into Scottish art, leading the way for the next generation of artists.