The Scottish Colourists, Part 4 – George Leslie Hunter

Cottage, near Largo by G.L.Hunter  (c.1920)
Cottage, near Largo by G.L.Hunter (c.1920)

In my blog today I conclude my look at the group of early twentieth century Scottish artists, who would later be grouped together and known as the Scottish Colourists.  The fourth member of this group was George Leslie Hunter.   Hunter was born in Rothesay, a town on the west coast Scottish Isle of Bute, in 1877.  He was the youngest of five children, born to William Hunter, a chemist by trade and his wife, Jeanie Hunter (née Stewart).  His initial schooling was at Rothesay Academy.  In February 1892, Hunter’s elder sister Catherine died and this was followed shortly after with the death of his elder brother.  Both iwho were in their early twenties were thought to have died from an influenza pandemic which had been sweeping the country.  Although his mother and father had been toying with the idea of emigrating, these tragic events were the final push they needed to leave Scotland and in September that year they set sail for California via New York to start a new life.  The family arrived in California where Hunter’s father bought an orange farm east of Los Angeles.  George enjoyed life in America and spent most of his time sketching and enjoying the favourable Californian climate.   He did not undertake formal art training, and was largely self-taught.  When he was nineteen years of age he managed to get work as an illustrator for some local magazines.  The father’s farming venture lasted just eight years before Hunter’s parents decided to return home to Scotland.  However George, who had developed a love of art, was enjoying life in America so much that he decided not to return with his parents but instead decided to stay on and in 1900 he moved to San Francisco where he became part of the Bohemian lifestyle of the Californian city.   The following year he had some of his artwork exhibited at the California Society of Artists exhibition.

To earn money Hunter illustrated work for the Californian magazines, Overland Monthly and the Sunset magazine.  The latter was a promotional journal for Southern Pacific Transportation Company, designed to combat all the negative publicity regarding the “Wild West” life in California. In 1904 Hunter went to New York with friends and then on to Paris and it was whilst in the French capital that Hunter took up oil painting and became determined to become a professional artist.  On his return to California in 1905, he started to build up a large collection of his work which he intended to exhibit at his first solo exhibition which was to be held at the Mark Hopkins Institute the following year.  However tragedy struck in the form of the great Californian earthquake in April 1906 which devastated San Francisco and destroyed his studio and most of his artwork.

Fruit and Flowers on a Draped Table by G.L.Hunter (1919)
Fruit and Flowers on a Draped Table by G.L.Hunter (1919)

Hunter returned to Glasgow and rejoined his mother.  He continued his self-education as a painter and carried earning a living as an illustrator.  Many of his initial oil paintings were of the still life genre.  He liked to experiment with these works, revelled in the use of colour and often would incorporate the technique used by the Dutch still-life masters, such as Willem Kalf, Jan Davidsz de Heem and the great Willem van Aelst.

Still Life with Nautilus Cup by William Kalf (1662)
Still Life with Nautilus Cup by William Kalf (1662)

These still life painters often composed their colourful depiction of floral and fruit arrangements with a drab and dark background to afford the greatest contrast.  They used the chiaroscuro technique to dramatic effect and for Kalf it was his delightful way in which he  combined in his paintings humble objects such as simple kitchen utensils with luxurious objects such as crystal glassware and exquisite silverware.    Hunter would probably have seen examples of the Dutch masters in the museums of Glasgow and would have found them inspirational for his work.   Although this may be construed as “copying” by Hunter and could be looked upon as a form of plagiarism, in fact it was not, for he was simply studying the great works of art and taking what he had seen back into his own works.

Hunter met fellow Colourist, Samuel Peploe, through mutual friends, the artists, Edward Archibald Taylor and his wife Jessie Marion King when he was in Paris in 1910 but it was over a decade later before the two became close friends.  Hunter’s professional artistic career really started in 1913 when he was fortunate to be introduced to Alexander Reid, an influential Glasgow art dealer.  That year he held his first solo exhibition in Glasgow at Reid’s gallery.   Three years later, in 1916, Hunter exhibits more work at the gallery and later showed at the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.  The review of the exhibition in the March edition of the Bailie newspaper commented on Hunter’s work:

“…He has three of four examples of still life that are superlatively strong…. they show a mastery of form and colour that takes one back to the triumphs of the Dutchmen…”

It was through exhibitions like these that Hunter connected with a group of affluent collectors who would continue to buy his works of art over the next fifteen years.

Portrait of Alexnder Reid by Vincent van Gogh (1887)
Portrait of Alexnder Reid by Vincent van Gogh (1887)

During the post-First World War days, Hunter became influenced more and more by the works of the modern French painters he had seen whilst visiting Paris, in particular Matisse, Cezanne and van Gogh.   In 1922 he went on an extended tour of Europe, visiting the French Riviera, Florence and Venice.  Glasgow art dealer Alex Reid and Parisian gallery owner, Ettienne Bignou, were developing a business relationship around this time and decided to stage an exhibition of the works of Peploe, Cadell and Hunter, entitled Les Peintres De l’Ecosse Moderne at the Galerie Barbazanges in June 1924.  Following this Hunter held a joint exhibition the next year with Peploe and Cadell at the Leicester Galleries in London.

Provencal Landscape by George Leslie Hunter (c.1929)
Provencal Landscape by George Leslie Hunter (c.1929)

During the period between 1924 and 1927 Hunter carried out a lot of his work in Fife and around Loch Lomond.  Whether it was due to the cold climate of Scotland or just his desire for the chance to savour the bright light and warm weather in southern France,  he became restless and left Scotland and based himself in the small Provencal village of Sainte-Paul-de-Vence.  From there he would set off on daily sketching trips around the many picturesque Provencal villages.  Most of the paintings he completed were sent back to Alex Reid in Glasgow for him to sell.  In 1929 he made the trip to New York for his exhibition at the Ferargil Galleries, which was critically acclaimed as an outstanding success.  From New York he returned to France but in November 1929 he suffered a breakdown and his health began to deteriorate and he is forced to return to Glasgow where he was looked after by his sister.

Reflections, Balloch by George Leslie Hunter (1930)
Reflections, Balloch by George Leslie Hunter (1930)

During the last couple years of his life Hunter concentrated once again on painting scenes around Loch Lomond and the village of Balloch which is situated at the southern tip of the loch.  He had painted scenes in this area five years earlier but now his later works show a greater clarity and are unfussy in composition.  In his work, entitled Reflections, Balloch, Hunter has concentrated the main focus of the work on the sparkle of light and reflections on the surface of the loch.  Many of these later works featuring the loch also incorporated houseboats and this series of paintings has been acknowledged as some of his best. His fellow colourist Samuel Peploe praised it at this time, saying:

“…that is Hunter at his best, and it is as fine as any Matisse…”

In 1931 Hunter travelled to Paris for the last time so as to be present at the highly successful exhibition Les Peintres Ecossais from which the French government bought a landscape of Loch Lomond for their national collection.  Buoyed by the success of the exhibition, of which he played a leading part, he began to make tentative plans to move from Scotland and go to live in London.  His spirits were high, he believed his luck had changed and he viewed the future with great optimism.  He was quoted at the time as saying:

“…I have been kicking at the door so long and at last it is beginning to open…”

Sadly before he could savour what he believed would be the start of a new life, he died in a Glasgow nursing home in December 1951, aged just 54.

This is my final blog about the four Scottish Colourists.  It cannot be emphasised enough the importance France played in their art.  In the book Scottish Colourists 1900-1930, one of the authors, Elizabeth Cumming, a lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, commented on this fact, writing:

“…Without their French contacts and experience, none of the Scottish Colourists would have developed their art as we know it.  For all, visiting and living in France invested their ideas with a new vision.  For Cadell, it meant developing an empathy with stylistic sophistication.  For Hunter, visiting the south of France especially injected light airiness into his landscapes.  For Peploe, two years of life in Paris opened a door to the intellectual possibilities within traditional subjects.  And for Fergusson, living in France for far longer than any of the others, it became the crux of his existence…”

 

The Scottish Colourists – Part 2, Francis Cadell

Self Portrait by Francis Cadell (c.1914)
Self Portrait by Francis Cadell (c.1914)

In my last blog, I introduced you to the four painters who would later become known as the Scottish Colourists.  In that first blog I looked at the life of Samuel Peploe and today I am concentrating on the life and works of another member of the group, Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell.   Cadell was born in Edinburgh in April 1883.  His father was Francis Cadell, an Edinburgh surgeon and his mother was Mary Boileau, a lady of French extraction.  His sister was Jean Cadell,  who would later become a well-known character actress.   As a boy, Cadell showed an aptitude for drawing and was educated at the Edinburgh Academy where he studied art.  When he was sixteen years of age and had completed his studies, on the advice of the Scottish landscape and figure painter, Arthur Melville, who was also the godfather to Cadell’s younger brother, Cadell went to Paris, chaperoned by his mother,  in order to study art at the Académie Julian.   He remained at the Academy for three years, during which time his exposure to the works of French artists of the time was to have an intense and enduring effect on his paintings.   During his first year at the Academy he was delighted to have one of his watercolours accepted for exhibiting at that year’s Paris Salon.  Whilst he was studying in the French capital he met one of the other Scottish Colourists, Samuel Peploe, and the two soon became friends.  The artwork of Peploe, who was twelve years his senior, was to prove to be a great influence on his work.

Mythical Scene by Francis Cadell (c.1907)
Mythical Scene by Francis Cadell (c.1907)

Cadell returns to Scotland in 1902 and, for the first time, exhibited work at the Royal Scottish Academy.  The genre of his works was varied.  He painted portraits as well as landscapes and also dabbled with mythical subjects, such as his work entitled Mythical Scene which he completed around 1907.  In 1906 he and his family moved to Munich and the following year he enrolled at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich.  A year later, in 1908, his mother died and the family returned home to Edinburgh.  That year, Cadell held his first one-man show at the gallery of the Edinburgh picture dealers, Doig, Wilson and Wheatley.  Cadell remained in Edinburgh until 1914, with just a brief time away on a painting trip to Venice, a city, which provided him with the ideal setting for his natural aptitude as a colourist.  Cadell loved everything about Edinburgh and was impressed by the city’s buildings.  He loved the beautiful architecture and the sumptuous interiors of some of the houses.  He was also very much in love with the stylishness and sophistication of its people and wanted to be part of that world.  In 1909, having established himself within Edinburgh society as a colourful, witty and entertaining host, he moved his studio to Great George Street and it was within the lavish interior of his residence that he held his regular soirées and entertained the “beautiful people” of Edinburgh.

Many of his paintings, which he completed in his Edinburgh studio before the war and during the 1920’s, often featured elegant female sitters with the backdrop, the interior of his impressive studio and these works were to become some of his best loved.  Cadell spent much time over the decoration and furnishing of his residence and 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.

Iona by Francis Cadell
Iona by Francis Cadell

In 1912, Cadell made his first visit to the small Western Isle of Iona and fell in love with the beauty of the wild landscape.  He found it an ideal place for painting because of the light, the colours of the white sand beaches and blue skies, and Iona’s geological diversity resulting in differing coloured rock formations.  The rapid changing weather conditions around this area meant an en plein air artist had to work swiftly, but it was all worthwhile as the numerous stunning views provided plenty of incentive for keen artists.   The island of Iona is low-lying and this results in the light reflected from the surrounding sea intensifying the colour of the water as well as the green of its pastureland.  However, Cadell was of the opinion that any artist with any real sense of colour could only paint in Scotland during the summer and so he chose to work on Iona during the summer months, usually en plein air, and he would remain in Edinburgh and work in his studio during the darker days of spring and early autumn.   A fine example of his Iona paintings highlighting the differing colours of the sea, rocks and sand was completed by him in 1920 and simply entitled Iona.  After the First World War, Cadell would make annual pilgrimages to the island.   He was not the only artist at the time to be drawn to the beauty of this Inner Hebridean Island as it attracted many other artists, including the Scottish Colourists, Peploe and Fergusson, and the Scottish landscape artist, John MacLauchlin Milne.  In 1912 Cadell founded the Society of Eight.  This was a group of like-minded artists, who rejected the artistic establishment of the day and, whose work was characterised by the use of bright colours.

In 1914 he applied to join the army but was turned down on medical grounds so for the next few months he took work on a farm as a labourer with the intention of improving his physical condition and fitness.   All the exercise must have worked for in 1915 he re-applied to join the army and this time he was accepted and became a member of the 9th Argyll, 9th Royal Scots and the Sutherland Highlanders.

Portrait of a Lady in Black by Francis Cadell
Portrait of a Lady in Black by Francis Cadell

In 1921 Cadell completed one of his most popular works entitled Portrait of a Lady in Black.  The sitter for this painting was his long-time muse, the enigmatic and mysterious, Miss Bethia Don Wauchope, who over a period of fifteen years, posed for twenty five paintings by Peploe and Cadell.   In this work the setting is almost certainly the artist’s Ainslie Place studio in Edinburgh which Cadell had moved to the previous year.   Miss Bethia Don Wauchope was a wealthy heiress of independent means.   Little is known about Cadell’s muse accept that she was the eldest of four daughters, who never married and her father was Sir John Don-Wauchope, chairman of the Board of Education and Board of Lunacy.  There is no doubt that she loved the thought of being immortalised in paintings.   This was one of Cadell’s favourite works and we know he loved to work with Bethia  as he went on to create a series of paintings with the theme ‘Lady in a Black Hat’, which included, Black Hat, Miss Don Wauchope, The Black Hat and  in 1925 (Lady in Black) and 1926 (Interior, the Orange Blind).

The Harbour, Cassis by Francis Cadell (1924)
The Harbour, Cassis by Francis Cadell (1924)

In 1923 Cadell embarked on a painting trip to the beautiful small seaside town of Cassis, on the French Mediterranean coast. The following year he produced some of his most radiant Colourist works while staying with fellow Colourist, Peploe.   One of the works he painted there in 1923/4 was entitled The Harbour, Cassis and cleverly reflects the harsh Mediterranean light and the effect it has the surrounding buildings.  Here the sun is so intense and the colours more vibrant.  It is truly an artist’s paradise.  (I was fortunate to visit this idyllic place a few years ago and was amazed by its charm and beauty).

Like most good things in life – they seem to have to end, and for Francis Cadell his lavish lifestyle in Edinburgh, which we saw reflected in many of his paintings of elegant women and opulent interiors,  came to an end with the decline of the art market during the economic downturn of the late 1920s.  Cadell, who had led a somewhat pampered and indulgent way of life was, like many others, badly affected financially and he was forced to sell part of his multi-storeyed Ainslie Place property.  Things deteriorated further in the early 1930’s and sales of his works dwindled and he was even forced to move to a less expensive and salubrious residence.

In 1935 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Watercolours and the following year he was made an Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy.   Sadly, by 1936, his health was starting to decline and the following year, 1937, Cadell died, aged 54, the cause being given as cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons by Allan Ramsay

Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons by Allan Ramsey (c.1764)

Britain is very fortunate to have so many art galleries.  Although if one lives in London I suppose one has the cream of the crop but dotted throughout the land there are some excellent art establishments.  One of the richest collection of art works is owned by the monarch and is held in trust for her successors and the nation.   There are more than 7000 paintings within the Royal Collection as well as thousands of watercolours, prints and drawings.  The collection is not held in just one place, Buckingham Palace, but is spread around the royal residences, such as Windsor Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Balmoral Castle, Hampton Court and Sandringham House.   The total collection is estimated to be worth around ten billion pounds.  My Daily Art Display today features a painting from the Royal Collection which hangs in Buckingham Palace.  It is entitled Queen Charlotte and her Two Eldest Sons by the Scottish portrait painter Allan Ramsay, which he completed around 1764.

Allan Ramsay was born in Edinburgh in 1713.  He was the eldest son of Allan Ramsay who was a poet and writer.  After completing his schooling in Scotland he moved to London when he was twenty years of age and studied art under the tutelage of Hans Hysing, the Swedish portrait painter and later was a student at the St Martin’s Lane Academy, which was the precursor to the present day Royal Academy.  In 1736, aged twenty-three he travelled to Rome and Naples to further his art education and he remained for almost three years.  On returning to Britain he went to Scotland and settled down in Edinburgh.

In 1739 he married his first wife, Anne Bayne, and the couple had three children but none survived childhood and his wife died during the birth of their third child in 1743.    Allan Ramsay supplemented his income from his paintings by teaching art and one of his pupils was Margaret Lindsay the eldest daughter of the nobleman Sir Alexander Lindsay of Evelick.  As a humble artist her parents frowned on their liaison outside of art tuition and knowing that, the couple eloped and were married in secret.  Her parents never forgave her for marrying lower than her station.  Allan Ramsey, in an attempt to ease their minds about how he would care for their daughter and that he had married their daughter for love and not for their money, wrote to them explaining that although he had to support his daughter from his first marriage along with his two sisters, he was well placed financially to look after their daughter.  Her parents were unmoved by his words.  The couple lived a happy life and went on to have two daughters and a son.

The devoted couple spent three years in Italy from 1754 to 1757, where they both spent time painting and copying old Masters and whilst there they would earn an income by painting portraits of the wealthy aristocratic travelers who were doing the Grand Tour of Europe.  They returned to Britain and went to live in London and in 1761, Allan Ramsey was appointed Principal Painter in Ordinary to George III.   The title of Principal Painter in Ordinary to the King or Queen of England was awarded to a number of artists, nearly all of whom were portraitists.  It was in this role that he completed many paintings of the royal couple and their children.  .

 So before us we have Queen Charlotte and two of her children but who was Charlotte and where did she come from?  Sophia Charlotte was born in 1744 and was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and his wife Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen.  When King George III came to the throne it was decided that he should seek to marry someone of royal descent who would be use to life at court but would also have to be somebody who would be popular with the people of Britain.  Many of the ladies that George would have liked to have married were deemed, much to the monarch’s annoyance, unsuitable and inappropriate and he had to reluctantly agree to “look elsewhere” !    Eventually a royal match was made, when David Graeme, a British soldier, diplomat and courtier, who had visited many of the royal courts of Europe, reported back to the British that he had found an ideal marriage partner for George.   She was Princess Sophia Charlotte.

In 1761, when she seventeen years old, she married George III of England and at that young age became the queen consort of  the United Kingdom. With the marriage came stipulations which she had to agree to.  Firstly, she must become an Anglican and secondly, she had to promise not to become involved in the politics of the country.  George III bought Buckingham House in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte and it was here that fourteen of the fifteen children of theirs were born.  Charlotte was an extremely intelligent woman.     From her letters we can see that she was well read and loved the fine arts. The Queen was very musical and is known to have been taught music by Johann Christian Bach.   Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at aged eight, dedicated his Opus 3 piece to the Queen at her request.  She had a love of plants and trees and helped to establish Kew Gardens.       The Christmas tree was introduced to England by the Queen who had the first one in her house, in 1800.  The royal couple were very much in love with one another but sometimes for the young girl, suddenly having to take on the responsibility of queen consort, was trying but she always took her duties seriously.   In a letter to her younger brother, she wrote:

“…I find that the solitary and retiring life which I lead is not made for me. Having admitted this I assure you I shall not ignore my duty…”

My Daily Art Display today features one of Ramsay’s paintings of Queen Charlotte and her two eldest sons, George, who was Prince of Wales and was later to become George IV and Frederick, Duke of York.  As we have seen in other paintings despite the two children being male they were dressed in, what today, we would term girl’s clothing.  The elder son, George, stands with his bow in his hand and in the left side of the picture, we can see his drum.  These accoutrements have been added by the artist to symbolise George’s future soldierly spirit.  His mother Charlotte has her foot on a foot-stool and leans against a piano.  On the piano we have a sewing box and a copy of John Locke’s book Some Thoughts concerning Education.  At the time, this book, a treatise on education,  was considered the most important philosophical work on education in England and it was translated into almost all of the major written European languages during the eighteenth century.  The setting of this painting and the items depicted in it all add up to a compassionate relationship between a mother and her children and illustrate how she spent time with them whilst they were at play and how important family life was to them.

It is a lovely portrait of a mother and her children.  It is full of compassion and the smiles on their faces have put across the impression of happiness and fulfillment.