Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell is one of the four artists known as the Scottish Colourists, along with JD Fergusson, GL Hunter and SJ Peploe. They all spent time in France early on in their careers and had direct contact with French painting from Manet and the Impressionists to Matisse and the Fauves. They shared a preference for bright colour and pronounced brushwork and are recognised as being amongst the most important modern Scottish artists.
This was the first solo exhibition of Cadell’s work to be held in a public gallery in seventy years, following the retrospective held at the National Gallery of Scotland in 1942. Cadell is perhaps the most elegant of the Colourists. He is renowned for his stylish portrayals of Edinburgh New Town interiors and the sophisticated society that occupied them; equally celebrated are his vibrantly coloured, daringly simplified still lifes and figure studies of the 1920s and his evocative depictions of his beloved island of Iona.
Cadell was born in Edinburgh in 1883 and studied in Paris and Munich. He was the youngest of the Scottish Colourists and was the only one to fight in World War One. After demobilisation in 1919, he moved to Ainslie Place in Edinburgh’s fashionable New Town, where he lived until 1931.
Cadell first visited the island of Iona in the Scottish Hebrides in 1912 and returned to paint there, often accompanied by Peploe. His paintings of Iona depict a wide range of features on the island and capture the quality of light created by the ever-changing weather conditions experienced there.
The steady waning of the art market from the late 1920s and mounting debts incurred due to Cadell’s lavish lifestyle saw him move home three times in the last decade of his life. As his personal circumstances and health declined so his official standing grew as he was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour in 1935 and the Royal Scottish Academy in 1936. He died in Edinburgh in 1937.
A Colourist Emerges
Cadell grew up in Edinburgh and showed artistic ability from an early age. In 1898, when he was sixteen, he moved to Paris and immersed himself in French painting. From 1902 to 1905 Cadell lived in Paris and Edinburgh 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 an impressive studio in George Street, in the heart of Edinburgh and met SJ 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 ever summer for the rest of his life.
During the immediate pre-war period, Cadell established himself as an artist of note. He developed a palette based on white, cream and black enlivened with highlights of bold colour. He revelled in the northern light of the Scottish capital, the beauty of its architecture and interiors, as well as the elegance of its inhabitants.
A Gift of Colour and Light
Cadell believed that no-one with any real sense of colour could paint in Scotland during the winter. From about 1919 he preferred to work on Iona during the summer, usually outside, and in Edinburgh during the spring and early autumn, usually indoors.
Cadell took great pains over the decoration and furnishing of his quarters; before the war and throughout the 1920s, most of the paintings that he made at home centred on depictions of his studios or arrangements of elegant female models or still life objects within them. The works of the immediate pre-war period conjure up a sense of the refined lifestyle of Edinburgh’s upper-class, depicted with a palette which brightened as the war approached.
Following his demobilisation in 1919, Cadell moved to Ainslie Place, Edinburgh. His work underwent an abrupt and dramatic change, thought to have been inspired by his new surroundings, by close collaboration with Peploe and interest in the Art Deco movement. 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 remarkable paintings in British art of the period.
Cadell and Iona
Cadell visited Iona for the first time in 1912 and returned to paint there almost every summer. Iona’s heyday as an artists’ colony was between the wars and both Cadell and Peploe were prominent members of its artistic community.
Iona has many attractions for the artist. It is low-lying, so the light reflected from the surrounding sea intensifies the colours of the water, the white sand beaches and the green of its pastures. Weather conditions change quickly, challenging the artist to work at speed. Iona is known for its geological diversity and there is a wide variation of colours in its rock formations. There are numerous views beyond the island, particularly across the Sound to Mull and from the north end towards Staffa and the Treshnish Isles.
Cadell painted all of these subjects and more. He usually worked outdoors and produced a significant body of work whose overriding focus is that of nature, in contrast to the urbanity of the paintings he made in Edinburgh. Iona played a vital part in Cadell’s career, providing some twenty years of inspiration and subject matter.
FCB Cadell RSA RSW
Cadell’s still lifes of the early to mid-1920s are remarkable. He suppressed perspective and shadow and rendered objects such as roses and bowls in blocks of barely modulated colour.
In 1923 and 1924 Cadell painted in Cassis, on the French Mediterranean coast. The works he made there are bold in composition and palette, conveying the harsh Mediterranean light and its effects on his surroundings.
Cadell 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. He was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW) in 1935 and was made an Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) in 1936.
However, despite outward success, Cadell’s financial position deteriorated during this period, in step with the decline of the art market as economic recession took hold – a situation exacerbated by his lavish lifestyle. Despite the efforts of loyal patrons, between 1928 and 1935 Cadell was forced to move home three times. His last years were dogged by ill-health and he died in Edinburgh in 1937.