Scottish Colourists
History, Characteristics of 4 Post-Impressionist Painters.

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Scottish Colourists (c.1904-30)
Four Post-Impressionist Painters Influenced by Matisse and Fauvism


Who Were They?
History and Development
Characteristics of Painting Style
Samuel Peploe (1871-1935)
John Fergusson (1874-1961)
Francis Cadell (1883-1937)
Leslie Hunter (1877-1931)

The Black Bottle (1905)
By Samuel John Peploe.
Painted before he began using
vivid colours, it clearly shows
the influence of Manet. See how
the dish of grapes on the right
balances the black bottle, and
the orange of the flower echoes
the colour of the apple.

For details of art movements,
see: History of Art.
For a guide to specific groups,
see: Art Movements.

Who Were They?

In modern art, the term "Scottish Colourists" refers to four Scots painters whose strong colour and loose handling of paint was influenced by Matisse (1867-1954) and the Fauvism movement. Although they didn't exhibit together until the 1920s, and even though their art was not regarded highly by the critics, they continued the process started by the Glasgow School of Painting, of fashioning a Scottish response to Post-Impressionism during the early 20th century. The four artists - all of whom spent time living and working in France before the First World War - were Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935), Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937), John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961), and George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931). The actual name of the group was popularized in the book Three Scottish Colourists (1950) - a critique of Peploe, Cadell and Hunter, by T.J.Honeyman - but a fourth painter, Fergusson, is customarily added to them, despite the fact that he didn't return to Scotland until 1940. Relatively prominent in Scottish art during the 1920s/30s, they fell out of favour during the 1940s only to be rediscovered during the 1980s. In 2011, a still life painting by Peploe, The Coffee Pot, sold for £1 million, an auction record for a work by a Scottish painter. Now seen as important representatives of Post-Impressionist painting, a major exhibition of their work opened in November 2012 at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. Their pictures can also be seen in the Aberdeen Art Gallery; the University of Stirling; the J.D.Fergusson Gallery in Perth; the Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery; the Kelvingrove Art Gallery; and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Reflections, Balloch (1929-30)
By George Leslie Hunter.
Notice the sparkle of light and
reflections on the surface of the loch.

For the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

For German artists, see:
Post-Impressionism in Germany.
For Dutch painters, see:
Post-Impressionism in Holland.

History and Development

Like the earlier Glasgow Boys, such as James Guthrie (1859-1930) and John Lavery (1856-1941), the Scottish Colourist painters were ardent enthusiasts of plein-air painting, which they practiced on the Cote d’Azur and in the seaside resorts of Normandy and Brittany in France, during the pre-war period. At the same time, they experienced the works of contemporary French artists at first hand, and were greatly influenced by the Paris avant-garde art scene, notably the colourist work of Post-Impressionist painters such as Matisse, Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), Andre Derain (1880-1954), Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), Kees van Dongen (1877-1968) and other members of the Paris School. The Impressionism of Edouard Manet was another influence. To this, they added a knowledge and appreciation of modernist Scottish landscape painting, especially works by William McTaggart (1835-1910).

But each Scottish Colourist was a different character, with a different artistic focus, and, while they all knew each other, they did not work as a group. Nor were they appreciated by the critics or by their British contemporaries. None of them, for instance, were included in the seminal exhibitions of Post Impressionism (1910 and 1912), organized by the critic Roger Fry (1866-1934) at the Grafton Galleries in London. In fact the first significant group show held by the Scottish Colourists was their 1924 exhibition at the Barbazanges Gallery, in Paris, entitled "Les Peintres de L'Ecosse Moderne" (Modern Scottish Paintings).


Characteristics of Painting Style

Scottish Colourists' paintings - quite unlike the traditional academic art which was then a major part of the syllabus at most academies - were characterized by bright colour pigments, a bold, fluent handling of paint, and an overall impressionistic style. Themes were highly varied and featured nearly all the painting genres, including still life painting, portrait art, and genre painting, as well as Edinburgh interiors, townscapes and Scottish landscapes. Although many painterly elements used by the Scottish Colourists were borrowed from French painters, the latter reworked them into a distinctive Scottish style of painting during the 1920s and 1930s.

Samuel Peploe (1871-1935)

Born in Edinburgh, Peploe thought very highly of Manet and set himself the lifelong ambition of painting the "perfect" still life. To this end, he would spend days on his next studio composition, positioning numerous objects - bowls, vases, utensils, fruit and so on, against a dark background. When finally satisfied with the proposed composition, he would typically paint it in one sitting, in the loose, fresh manner of his hero Manet, or the unique casual style of the Dutch portraitist Frans Hals. If a particular area of paint became overworked or otherwise unsatisfactory, the whole lot would be erased and he would start over.

John Fergusson (1874-1961)

Also born in Edinburgh, Fergusson trained briefly as a naval surgeon before attending art school in his native city. However, in 1897, faced with the prospect of two years of figure drawing from plaster casts of Greek sculpture before being permitted to draw a real person, Fergusson quit school and went to Paris, where he became an avid exponent of Impressionism, and a follower (in particular) of Whistler (1834-1903), before adopting an unambiguous Fauvist style (Blue Beads, 1910, Tate Collection). In addition, he produced numerous plein-air street scenes in Edinburgh and Paris, capturing the momentary effects of light in the landscape (Rue St Jacques, 1907, NGS). A willing convert to French life in general, and Parisian bohemianism in particular, from about 1907 he taught at the Academie de la Palette and exhibited at the Salon d’Automne. He also spent time painting with the more reserved Peploe on the French Atlantic coast. In 1914, Fergusson returned to London, where he lived until 1929, after which he returned to Paris until 1940. He then returned to Glasgow, founded the New Art Club, and afterwards the New Scottish Group, becoming its first President in the process. He was also editor of the Scottish publication Scottish Art and Letters, and author of Modern Scottish Painting (1943).

Francis Cadell (1883-1937)

Like Fergusson, the flamboyant Cadell had a particular regard for Whistler, the leader of American Impressionism, whom he described as a genius. After spending time painting in France before the First World War, he joined up when war broke out and fought in the trenches. Afterwards he made a regular painting trip to the Inner Hebridean island of Iona, where he perfectly captured the unique light in a series of highly popular landscape paintings, as well as portraying the everyday life of the islanders in a number of genre paintings. From 1920, he was joined on his island trips by Peploe. (For an earlier Scottish genre painter, see: David Wilkie, 1785-1841.)

Leslie Hunter (1877-1931)

The fourth member of the Scottish Colourist group was Leslie Hunter who moved with his family to California, when he was a child. After art school, he took a job in magazine illustration while preparing for his first art exhibition in San Francisco. Tragically, all his paintings were lost in the great earthquake of 1906, after which he returned to Scotland. He didn't settle, however, and instead took up an itinerant life, moving around Europe, often painting with his pal Fergusson. Hunter did eventually exhibit his work in New York in 1929, to great critical acclaim, but it was all too late. Not long afterwards he suffered a mental breakdown from which he never recovered.


Along with the earlier Glasgow School, the Scottish Colourists were largely responsible for introducing Post Impressionist painting to Scotland. Unlike the Glasgow School, however, the work of Peploe, Fergusson, Cadell and Hunter was conceived, if not executed, in France, and thus provides a direct link between the Ecole de Paris and the art of Scotland. It was recognition of this fact that, in the 1980s, led to a renewed interest in these painters, and a number of record-breaking sales. See also: Most Expensive Paintings: Top 20.

Works by the Scottish Colourists hang in some of the best art museums in The UK and Europe.

• For the evolution of early 20th century painting, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For information about Scottish painting, see: Homepage.

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