Scottish Colourists from The Fleming Collection

The Fleming Collection is to show all its Scottish Colorist paintings together in its gallery for the first time as part of a series of exhibitions during 2010 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its foundation as a charity. More than 30 works by Samuel John Peploe, Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell, George Leslie Hunter and John Duncan Fergusson will go on public display at The Fleming Collection at 13 Berkeley Street, London W1 from January 19 to April 1, 2010.

“The Colorists have been recognized as key players in the introduction of modern art to Britain and have become some of the most internationally popular artists that Scotland has ever produced,” said Selina Skipwith, Keeper of Art at The Fleming Collection, which started as a corporate collection and has evolved into the only museum entirely devoted to Scottish art in the United Kingdom. “It will be an exciting way to mark our first decade as a charitable foundation.”

SJ Peploe, A Vase of Pink Roses © Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation

The Fleming Collection began life in 1968 as a handful of paintings bought to decorate the offices of the London merchant bank, Robert Fleming & Co. Ltd. It was the brainchild of David Donald, an Aberdonian, who suggested to his fellow directors that some pictures would relieve the stark bareness of the walls. Today it is widely regarded as the finest collection of Scottish art in private hands, comprising paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints from 1770 to the present day.

The Collection was sold in April 2000 to The Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation, a new charitable foundation endowed by the Fleming family. The Foundation looks after The Fleming Collection and maintains a gallery in Berkeley Street, Mayfair, which is open to the public. It shows works from The Fleming Collection and elsewhere and aims to raise the profile of Scottish art, which is poorly represented in museums and galleries outside Scotland, by introducing it to a wider audience. It has become an embassy for Scottish art in London.

Until about 1980 Scottish art was under-rated by the market and David Donald was able to acquire superb works by the Colorists for prices which seem very modest today. In his first year as The Fleming Collection’s art buyer he purchased four oils by the Colorists including Peploe’s “A Vase of Pink Roses” and Hunter’s “Peonies in a Chinese Vase”. Further acquisitions followed over the next few years but by the early 1980s Scottish painting was becoming better known internationally. Prices, particularly for the Colorists, rose sharply and it is significant that The Fleming Collection has bought only one Colorist oil painting during the past thirty years – Cadell’s “The Feathered Hat” in 1992.

The four Scottish Colourists have excited more interest in the past three decades than they did during their lifetimes and have been recognized as among the most forward-thinking British artists of the early 20th-century. They did not develop as a group but pursued independent careers – indeed the descriptive name was not coined until 1948 when only Fergusson was still alive. Although the four exhibited together only three times during their lifetimes, the name has now been widely accepted as the title for a group of artists who, following in the footsteps of their predecessors the Glasgow Boys, assimilated contemporary developments in continental art and brought a new approach to painting in Britain.

France figured largely in their lives. All were attracted by the artistic life of Paris, spending varying periods there. Peploe and Fergusson studied in Paris in the 1890s, returning regularly throughout their early careers and settling for a time in the French capital where they were part of the community of international artists known as the School of Paris. Between 1909-1912 Fergusson and Peploe were leading members of the Anglo-Saxon group of Fauvistes based in Paris and were on friendly terms with many of the avant-garde artists there, including the young Picasso. On their return to Britain before the First World War, they were among the most advanced British artists of their time and ready to develop their mature individual styles.

Hunter and Cadell, also spent their formative years abroad. Hunter grew up in California and began his life as an artist in the bohemian San Francisco artistic community. Working as an illustrator he was first and foremost a draughtsman, learning the skills of his trade from fellow members of the Californian Society of Artists. He first visited Paris in 1904 and settled back in Scotland in 1907. Cadell was first encouraged to become an artist by a friend of his parents, the celebrated Scottish watercolourist, Arthur Melville. Like Fergusson and Peploe, he came from a middle-class Edinburgh background and he studied art abroad, first in Paris and then in Munich, where his family was living between 1906 and 1908.

Visiting London and Paris regularly and spending time on the Côte d’Azur, where most of the avant-garde artists who had settled in Paris in the early 20th century had moved, the Colourists were more aware than most British artists of the latest developments in art, a fact reflected in their work.