Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Modern Scottish Women 1885-1965


Norah Nielson Gray, Military Hospital Abbaye de Royamour, 1918
The blurb describes this exhibition as 'revelatory, fascinating, inspiring',  but I was most struck by the speed with which one forgot that this - paintings and sculptures - was all 'work by women', and simply absorbed it visually as one compelling artwork after another.   Stylistically they display their relation to the art movements of  the decades spanned by the selection, and to some degree the subjects also reflect historical events, notably the two European wars.   But they are also most strikingly individual.

Mary Cameron, Les jouers, Edinburgh Museum


Overall the impression is of  compositional strength, vibrant and confident colour, cogent lines, persuasive forms. And variety of subject and handling that makes the viewing experience so rewarding.    According to curator Alice Strang,   
Edinburgh-trained Mary Cameron, nicknamed Bloody Mary, fell in love with Spain and at the turn of the century produced frank and uncompromising paintings of bullfights. One in particular was so gory it was used as a postcard in anti-bullfighting propaganda in France and Germany.  "The press, when they reviewed Mary Cameron’s work, always had to stress her femininity, almost to make up for the pretty brutal paintings. She was having none of it, saying, ‘Hang on a minute, look at my paint-splattered hands, Painting is hard work, you have to roll up your sleeves, it is manual labour’,

Dorothy Johnstone, Life class, 1923, Edinburgh Museum


The majority of images are figurative, as was most British art of the period,   But works by       and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham - one of the better-known painters here - have that essential abstraction of shape and hue where perception precedes interpretation.

Wilhelmina  Barns-Graham, Glacier Chasm, 1951, BarnsGraham Trust

Doris Zinkeisen, Belsen April 1945, IWM

 Several are extremely powerful, but others are quite joyous.  Including Agnes Miller Parker's crowd scenes The Horse Fair and the Round Pond - where the vertiginous view is anchored by the ball towards which the circling mutts converge, with its colour matching that of the main figure.    
Agnes Miller Parker, Round Pond, 1930



On at Edinburgh's Museum of Modern Art till 26 June 2016 and even if like me you have always liked this era's art, certainly vaux le detour for a revelation and delight.

Anne Redpath, Indian Rug /Red Slippers, c1942, NGS  

1 comment:

  1. What splendid but sometimes quite haunting paintings.

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