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An Introduction to FCB Cadell

Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell is perhaps the most elegant of the Colourists. He is renowned for his stylish portrayals of Edinburgh New Town interiors, his vibrantly coloured, daringly simplified still lifes and figure studies of the 1920s and his evocative depictions of the island of Iona.

Cadell grew up in Edinburgh and showed artistic ability from an early age. Aged sixteen, he moved to Paris and enrolled at the Académie Julian, immersing himself in the French art scene. From 1902-5 he lived between Edinburgh and Paris and tentatively embarked upon a professional career. In 1907 he enrolled at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich, returning to Scotland the following year and staging his first solo exhibition in Edinburgh in 1908.

In 1909 Cadell secured a studio in George Street, in the centre of Edinburgh and met S. J. Peploe who became a life-long friend. A trip to Venice in 1910 proved to be a turning point, inspiring a newly confident use of bright colour and a loosening of technique. In 1912 Cadell visited the Hebridean island of Iona for the first time and was to return there virtually every summer for the rest of his life.

During the immediate pre-war period, Cadell established himself as an artist of note and a figure of some standing within Edinburgh society. He developed a palette based on white, cream and black, enlivened with highlights of bold colour.

The Model, F.C.B. Cadell, 1912

Between 1915 and 1919 Cadell served in The Royal Scots and later in The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Cadell believed that no-one with any real sense of colour could paint in Scotland during the winter and following the War he preferred to work on Iona during the summer, usually outside, and in Edinburgh during the spring and autumn, usually indoors and resting in the winter.

Cadell’s demobilisation in the spring of 1919 had a profound effect on his work, inspired by his new surroundings, close collaboration with Peploe, interest in the Art Deco movement and perhaps in response to the squalor of the trenches that he experienced whilst on service. Tightly-cropped compositions, usually approached at an angle, the flat application of paint and the use of increasingly brilliant colour resulted in interiors, still lifes and figure studies which count amongst the most noteworthy paintings in British art of the period.

The Blue Fan, F.C.B. Cadell, 1922

In his still lifes of the early to mid-1920s Cadell suppressed perspective and shadow, and rendered objects, such as roses and bowls, in blocks of barely modulated colour usually presented within a strictly limited framework. His fascination with reflections persisted, as seen in still lifes of the late 1920s, which have a pronounced clarity of composition and light. He developed a late style in which black remained dominant and was increasingly used to outline features, whilst his technique became less structured and his colours more sober.  

The Green Bottle, F.C.B. Cadell, 1920

The island of Iona also provided some twenty years of inspiration for landscape paintings. Its heyday as an artists’ colony was between the wars and Cadell and Peploe were prominent members of its artistic community. Cadell in particular became a well-known and well-liked character.  

Iona Croft, F.C.B. Cadell, 1920

Cadell exhibited regularly from 1921 until the last years of his life, not least in exhibitions organised by the Glasgow-based art dealer Alexander Reid and his son A. J. McNeill Reid. Public recognition of Cadell’s work also grew as it entered various British public collections. Cadell was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour in 1935 and was made an Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1936.