Making and Meaning: The Scottish Colourists in The Hunterian

Making and Meaning: The Scottish Colourists in The Hunterian

John Duncan Ferguson, Le Voile Persan, 1909, Oil on artists’ board, 51.2 x 45.9 cm, GLAHA 52297, © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow. The Technical Art History Group at the University of Glasgow and The Hunterian have initiated a pilot research project on the little-studied techniques, materials and studio practice of three Scottish Colourists: John Duncan Fergusson (1874–1961), Samuel John Peploe (1831–1935) and Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883–1937). This study will add substantially to the scant information currently existing on the Colourists’s working practices and on that of early 20th Scottish artists in general.

Contributors to the project will achieve this by combining technical and art historical research with scientific analysis and the study of historical sources (textual and visual). Five paintings from the Hunterian collection have so far been examined, all dating from between 1909 and 1926. Following a detailed preliminary analysis of each work, paint samples taken are now being analysed using optical microscopy, fluorescent staining, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) in combination with energy-dispersive x-ray microanalysis (EDX), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and Raman microscopy. Some IR photography and ultraviolet fluorescence photography was also carried out on specific works.

Cross-section of the pale purplish-pink preparatory layer of Fergusson’s Le Voile Persan. Photo taken at a magnification of 200x. © Mark Richter, University of Glasgow. 
The first reports planned focus on Fergusson’s Le Voile Persan (1909) and Peploe’s Tulips and Cups (1912). Initial findings show that these two painters used very different materials in their preparatory layers reflecting the exploratory nature of their painting styles at this time.

‌Significantly expanding our body of knowledge, the project will firstly illuminate the working methods of the Colourists and their Scottish contemporaries. It will also help to establish any techniques they may have shared with or taken from their contemporaries, particularly in light of their known association with the continental avant-garde through their training and working in France, and their references to French Impressionists, Van Gogh and the Fauves. Findings from the research should also lead to a deeper understanding of early 20th century painting techniques and their development within the UK and Europe.

Project partners: Mark Richter (Lecturer, Technical Art History Group) Margaret Smith (Conservation Scientist / Lecturer, Technical Art History Group), Anne Dulau Beveridge (Curator, The Hunterian).

Images: John Duncan Ferguson, Le Voile Persan, 1909, Oil on artists’ board, 51.2 x 45.9 cm, GLAHA 52297. Cross-section of the pale purplish-pink preparatory layer of Fergusson’s Le Voile Persan. Photo taken at a magnification of 200x. © Mark Richter, University of Glasgow.