British Council Scotland is celebrating their 70th anniversary by spotlighting works from the British Council Collection that map the vitality and record the activity of just some of the artists who were born in, or studied, lived or visited Scotland in the last 70 years.
For the fourth in a series of blog posts about seven of these works, Susanna has written about a watercolour by Robert Colquhoun:
Robert Colquhoun was once, arguably, one of the UK’s most celebrated artists. Deftly flirting with Cubism but always presenting a singular vision, his predominately figurative paintings were intensely affecting. His style was vigorous, robust and heartfelt.
Born in Kilmarnock in the west of Scotland just after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Colquhoun trained at Glasgow School of Art. Here he met fellow artist Robert McBryde. They became life-long partners and collaborators. Dubbed the ‘Two Roberts’, they travelled to France and Italy in the late 1930s, moving to London in the early 1940s. Quickly and widely feted, their circle of friends included Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon; their haunts were the clubs and the bars of Soho. It was doubtless a heady time.
Colquhoun was deeply inquisitive and open to ideas. He became associated with the neo-romantics, a loose grouping of artists that included McBryde, Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland. They wanted to give more emphasis to the imaginative and the melancholic in their work. They saw art both as a balm and spiritual refuge.
Colquhoun’s Two Figures is from 1946. It is an intimate scene. Painted on paper, washes of blue watercolour lap around the two figures. Set within a framed and confined space, simple ink lines and shading describe the figures form and colour the mood. Their eyes are down-cast. One of the figures raises a hand to seemingly caress the cheek of the other. Colquhoun gives us pathos.
Colquhoun died young in 1962 at the age of 47. Ever fickle, fashion had moved on and he died less celebrated than he deserved. In 2015 an exhibition of Colquhoun and McBryde’s work was held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. It was a huge critical success.