- The story so far
- I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org (All work © Jan Patience)
Monday, 1 March 2010
The Two Roberts: More Than Just a Love Story
Clockwise from top left, The Necromancer by Robert MacBryde (1949), Festa Settignano 1950 by Robert Colquhoun (1950) and Robert MacBryde and Robert Colquhoun in Regent Street, London
The following article was published in The Herald Arts supplement on Saturday 27 Feb. I found myself getting really caught up in the story of Ayrshire-born artists Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, who were an integral part of the art scene in London in the middle years of the 20th century.
Davy Brown, who was my art teacher at Kilmarnock Academy many years ago, has written a fine essay in The Scottish Gallery's catalogue which accompanies this exhibition. Robert Colquhoun had been a pupil in the very same art rooms in which Davy was teaching us. By the same token, Davy had been taught in these rooms too and it was there that he first fell under the spell of Colquhoun.
He describes the coup de foudre this way:
"I first became aware of Colquhoun (and
MacBryde) in September 1962, a few days
after he died. I had just begun my secondary
schooling that month at Kilmarnock Academy.
The principal teacher of art, John McKissock had
known the two Roberts at GSA, and was visibly
shaken by the news of Colquhoun’s untimely
death. I immediately became fascinated by the
images of the haunting, hollow-eyed women
which McKissock placed around the art room –
the same room in which Colquhoun had studied
back in the 20s and 30s. My life-long love affair
with his work had begun."
Studying the imagery in the catalogue, and reading my press copy of the new biography of the Roberts by Roger Bristow (I'm 100 pages in and would thoroughly recommend it) I realised what an impact Davy's passionate advocacy of their work had left on my visual memory. It was almost as if the way I look at the world around me developed through being surrounded at such a key stage by Robert Colquhoun's dark rimmed, solid, yet beautifully soft paintings and monotypes.
Maybe I'm getting lost in artsy-land. My husband'll soon tell me.
Whatever - recognition for two of Scotland's finest artistic exports is surely overdue. Can't wait for the exhibition which is I gather is being planned by Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in two years time. This would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the death of Robert Colquhoun at the age of just 47.
For more information on the work of Davy Brown, see http://www.davybrown.com/
THE LAST BOHEMIANS: THE TWO ROBERTS - COLQUHOUN AND MACBRYDE by
Roger Bristow is published by Sansom & Company, £29.95
THE ROBERTS: PAINTINGS & WORKS ON PAPER BY COLQUHOUN & MACBRYDE
The Scottish Gallery
16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh
0131 558 1200
Like a pair of rockets, who exploded onto the London art scene in the febrile middle years of the twentieth century, Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde all but disappeared from the art radar in the years which followed their untimely deaths in 1962 and 1966 respectively.
The Ayrshire born artists, known as The Golden Boys of Bond Street, were openly gay in an era when social and legal mores dictated homosexuality should remain firmly closeted.
Their beautifully soft, yet powerful imagery chimed perfectly with the mood of the times and such was their collective talent, they were widely regarded as two of the most talented British artists of the era.
Kilmarnock-born Colquhoun and MacBryde, from nearby Maybole, met at Glasgow School of Art in the 1930s. They moved to London in 1941 and became associated with the Neo-Romantic group of painters, which included Keith Vaughan and John Minton. They worked hard and played hard, but by the time Colquhoun died of heart failure aged just 47, they were living in relative obscurity and struggling to keep a roof over their head.
A devastated MacBryde was offered money by Francis Bacon to start a new life in Dublin, but he was knocked down by a car just four years after the death of Colquhoun. He was 53.
Their interwoven life stories attract the artist and writer John Byrne to pen his 1993 play Colquhoun and MacBryde, yet the last major exhibition of the artists’ work in their homeland was at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre in 1981.
Now, almost 50 years after Colquhoun’s death, interest in them is reigniting. This week, as well as the hosting the launch of a major new biography of the two men by Roger Bristow, entitled The Last Bohemians, The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh are preparing to open a new exhibition featuring 36 paintings and works on paper by Colquhoun and MacBryde.
This exhibition by the gallery which first showed their work in 1944, is backed by a must-have catalogue, filled with atmospheric black and white photographs of the couple by renowned Vogue photographers, John Deakin and Clifford Coffin, many of which have never been seen before.
As well as stunning illustrations, it also contains two essays, one by the Kilmarnock-born artist and collector Davy Brown, who has been a long-standing champion of the two Roberts, and Robin Muir, the curator and writer, a consultant to the Vogue Archives.
Just as during their lifetime, the charisma of the Roberts attracted a social circle which included painters Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Michael Ayrton, John Minton and poets George Barker and Dylan Thomas, Scottish Gallery director Christina Jansen has spent the last few months falling under their spell.
“It’s a great story of two hard working artists whose lives ended tragically,” she says. “The last show of their work was almost 30 years ago, so why should any of us be familiar with their powerful visual language? This is a chance to put this right.
“We have borrowed some work for this exhibition, but most of it will be for sale. Their work rarely comes onto the market as collectors will lend but are not keen to sell. That may change a little with the publication of this new comprehensive biography. If the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art do a retrospective in 2012 to tie in with 50th anniversary of Robert Colquhoun’s death, as has been mooted, that will also increase awareness.
Throughout the course of this exhibition, the gallery will be showing Ken Russell’s richly evocative 10-minute black and white film about the Roberts from the classic BBC arts series, Monitor.
The gallery will also host a talk and book signing next Saturday (Mar 6) by Roger Bristow, who has spent the last 20 years immersed in the world of two Scottish artists who deserve to be remembered and whose outstanding contribution to modern British art should to be recognised.