Glasgow blitz and the artist who recorded it

As Aberdeenshire and Clydesbank learned in 1941, one can mind one’s own business and war will still, sadly, find you.
Rescue Party, Kilmun Street [Maryhill, Glasgow], 1940, Ian Fleming, courtesy National Galleries Scotland
I attended church on Sunday with the Iona Community. This began as a project to find new ways to live in Christian community, one of which involved rebuilding Iona Abbey. The movement was started in 1938 by George MacLeod, a Church of Scotland minister whose WW1 experiences led him to socialism and pacifism. His modern-day followers are devoted to social justice and peace. As sadly sometimes happens, that seems to mean excising Christ from the Creed in this foundational place of Christian worship.
Scotland suffered more than 500 German air raids during the course of WW2. Other than London, Peterhead in Aberdeenshire was the second-most bombed location in Britain, with 28 airstrikes. Aberdeen following closely with 24.
Shelters in a tenement lane, Glasgow, 1942, drypoint etching, Ian Fleming, courtesy National Galleries Scotland
The worst was the Clydebank Blitz, on March 13-14, 1941. Clydebank abuts Glasgow,. It was a working-class shipbuilding, oil depot and munitions town. The Luftwaffe dropped more than a thousand bombs and 100,000 incendiaries. The close mix of industry and housing meant inevitable loss of life.
In terms of military objective, the raids were a failure. While most industrial targets were damaged, none sustained a death blow. The human cost was horrific. Twelve hundred people died, a thousand were seriously injured, and hundreds more were injured by blast debris. A third of all housing was destroyed; another third was seriously damaged. The water, gas, and electricity systems were ruined. Clydebank was so badly damaged that it became the only British town evacuated during the war.
Bomb Crater, Knightswood, 1942, Ian Fleming, courtesy Glasgow Museums Resource Centre
In Glasgow, there were at least 11 airstrikes. In one attack, a mine landed between a tram and a tenement on Nelson Street, killing 110 people. On the same night, 67 people were killed at Yarrow shipyard.
The attacks were recorded by an artist with the unfortunate name of Ian Fleming. He was born in Glasgow in 1906, and attended the Glasgow School of Art.
The Blitz, Glasgow, 1942, drypoint etching, Ian Fleming
With the start of hostilities in 1939, Fleming became a reserve policeman. It was while doing this that he recorded his experience of the Glasgow Blitz. In 1941, he joined the Royal Pioneer Corps. He was at Normandy and on the drive through the Low Countries, across the Rhine and into Germany.
These experiences seemed to have never damaged his essential good humor. “Ian Fleming was an avuncular presence, invariably supportive of the up-and-coming, with a fund of knowledge, anecdote and good sense delivered as incisive advice when needed,” read his obituary.
The peaceniks of Iona are aging now; they are among the last of us to remember WW2 and its immediate aftermath. They’ve chosen an excellent place to escape the world. Iona looks and feels like the end of the earth. But as Aberdeen and Clydesbank learned in 1941, one can mind one’s own business and war will still, sadly, find you.
Shelter interior, Glasgow, 1942, pen and wash with chalk, Ian Fleming, courtesy National Galleries Scotland
That’s what happened to the first religious retreat on Iona. A series of Viking raids began in 794 AD. After it had been plundered many times, St. Columba’s relics were removed and the monastery was abandoned. And still, its evangelical Christianity survived. In fact, it ultimately, peacefully, conquered the Norse themselves.

Use your inside voices

This trip perfectly combined work and fun. How can I bring that attitude back to my regular routine?
White sand, by Carol L. Douglas. This is the best photo I’m going to have of this painting; it’s staying in Scotland.

When plein airpainters stand in one place for a long time, we melt into the scenery. It’s a great job for eavesdropping. This week, I’ve heard chatter from all over the world. As I stood near the landing, I realized that visitors were coming off the ferry in national waves: Americans, then Scots, then Germans, then French-speakers. There are a lot of Americans in Scotland right now. The dollar is strong and Outlander has many die-hard fans.

Americans can be exuberant, but no more so than the Scots. I’ve gotten to hear bits and pieces of conversation I should never be privy to. You may feel as if you’re alone, but outdoors on a small island, there is always someone nearby.
Daisy chain: a photo of a photographer photographing me painting something else. Courtesy of Douglas J. Perot.
Because I’m part of the scenery, tourists take my picture while I’m painting. Occasionally they’ll ask, but that isn’t necessary. I’m outside in public, so I’m fair game. A few days ago, I posted the photo above on Instagram. “That is me! I hope you don’t mind I took some pics of you… How embarrassing!” wrote user surfeandovientos.
Let that be a lesson on the power of hashtags. People really do search and follow them.
White sands of Iona, by Carol L. Douglas. The water is turquoise in Iona Sound.
I generally get in my 10,000 steps a day. Even that is not enough to keep up with the typical middle-aged European. My friends and husband averaged 25,000 steps on their Iona ramble days. Even in town they walked to most destinations that we would grab a car for.
The average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day, or roughly 1.5 to 2 miles. If you don’t up your game significantly, you won’t enjoy visits to places like Iona, where there are few cars and roads. The time to start exercising is now, before you ever book a ticket.
You’re not getting as much value out of the scenery of your home country, either. The world looks very different on foot. Your heart, your soul, and the environment will all thank you if you start walking every day.
Resting place of warriors and kings, incomplete, by Carol L. Douglas.
I painted every day it wasn’t raining, and I still managed a decent daily ramble. I went to an auction preview, out to dinner, to Rosslyn Chapel, and traipsed around after my friends on one of the world’s most scenic golf courses. There were no golf carts; one had climb stiles over barbed-wire fencing and dodge the sheep to get from hole to hole. If golf was like that in the US, I’d find it irresistible.
“I know this is your opportunity to paint on Iona, but you don’t have to work all the time,” cautioned my husband. So I didn’t, merely keeping a pace that was comfortable. The challenge for me is to take that attitude into my summer season.
Yesterday, we moved along to Glasgow, where we walked through the city center before bed. I can’t really say I’ve ‘seen’ Glasgow, and I—sadly—missed the Kelvingrove, but that’s the nature of travel: you always want to come back for more.
This morning I’ll repack my luggage and head to the airport and home. I have an appointment with the town assessor to look at our sewer connection first thing tomorrow morning. There’s nothing like returning to reality with a thump.

The Scots invented everything

Narrow roads, lochs, mountains, the sea, and a pint. The road from Edinburgh to Iona is beautiful no matter the season.

Sheep ambling down to the pub at Fionnphort. Photo courtesy Douglas J. Perot.
I drove from Edinburgh to Fionnphort just three years ago. This year, I relaxed as others managed logistics. At the Green Welly, one of our party purchased a CD of traditional Scottish songs. Amazing Grace was the last tune, and we all sang as we climbed the last rise to Fionnphort harbor. Single-track roads in the UK can make an atheist pray.
The subtext of this week’s trip has been, “The Scots invented everything,” which seems very nearly true. The Scottish Enlightenmentwas part of a worldwide outpouring of ideas. In Scotland, that took a particularly practical bent. Their chief aim was improvement, virtue, and practical assistance. Matters like lighthouse design were not too plebian for Scotland’s greatest thinkers.
If you head to the Hebrides, you go on a boat operated by Caledonian MacBrayne. This company has been in operation since 1851, although it had a period of government ownership from 1973-2006. As with most ferries, it’s a monopoly. A ditty around here goes:
The Earth belongs unto the Lord
And all that it contains
Except the Kyles and the Western Isles
And they are all MacBrayne’s.

Eilean Musdile light, designed by Robert Stevenson. Photo by Carol L. Douglas
Two waters intersect across a bar on the route of the Oban-to-Mull ferry. On either side, there’s a lighthouse standing atop a rock.  Eilean Musdile is the larger of these two. It stands at the mouth of Loch Linnhe and has a prehistoric standing stone as well as other ruins. Its lighthouse was built by Robert Stevenson in 1833.
The Stevensons are famous for their literary son, Robert Louis Stevenson, but they were known in their day as great lighthouse engineers. Robert Stevenson learned his trade from his stepfather Thomas Smith, an engineer with the Northern Lighthouse Board. At the tender age of 19 he was entrusted to supervise the Clyde Lighthouse construction on Little Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde.
Bell Rock Lighthouse, 1819, watercolor and gouache on paper, JMW Turner, courtesy Scottish National Gallery
His most famous work was the Bell Rock lighthouse. Balanced on a partly-submerged reef, its construction was risky and difficult. It was done so precisely that its masonry has endured for more than 200 years. Robert Stevenson invented the flashing lights that are still used on lighthouses. He also designed and built roads, bridges and other public structures.
In 1797, Stevenson married his step-sister. Three of their sons, Alan, David, and Thomas(RLS’ father), became lighthouse engineers as well. David’s sons carried the lighthouse business into the fourth generation.
Celtic cross on Iona, under last night’s waxing moon. Photo courtesy Douglas J. Perot.
Opposite Robert Stevenson’s Eilean Musdile light is the smaller Lady’s Rock, which is submerged at high tide except for its small lighthouse. This rock has a romantic Scottish tale attached to it. Lachlan Cattenach was a Maclean of Duarton nearby Mull. He was unable to father a boy and blamed his wife, Catherine. He left her on the rock to await the incoming tide, taking care that it should look like an accident.
Lachlan duly reported her death to her brother, the Earl of Argyll. Later, the earl invited Lachlan to supper, where the scoundrel found Catherine seated next to her brother at the high table. Lachlan was allowed to leave unharmed, but was later found murdered in Edinburgh.

The Golden Hour

My Edinburgh portrait is finished. Now I can head to Iona and some plein air, once again in the footsteps of the Scottish Colourists.
The Golden Hour, Carol L. Douglas. This isn’t a perfect photo, but is the best I could do at the time.
In some ways you might have found the execution of this painting brutally workmanlike. There was no flailing or fits of self-discovery; I save those for my own studio.
I started on Wednesday of last week. I laid down my brushes for the final time at 4:26 PM yesterday. That was exactly four minutes before I’d agreed to finish. Most of those days, I worked strictly from 9 to 5. The exception was Tuesday, when I overran my hours and worked until after sunset. But that wasn’t panic-painting; I simply needed more time for Poppy (the dog), who hadn’t figured in my original plan.
The client stated up front that he wouldn’t look at the painting until it was done. Indeed, he carefully averted his eyes whenever he entered the drawing room.
My worksite.

His only request was that the painting be in the manner of Francis Cadell. I studied a number of Cadell paintings over the winter. Once I entered the drawing room, however, I resolutely looked at no other paintings, except the James Morrisonlandscape peering over my shoulder. Morrison’s a terrific modern Scottish landscape painter and there are two of his paintings in this townhouse. It was a unique opportunity to study his work closely.

Interior with opera cloak, date unknown, Francis Cadell, courtesy Portland Gallery. This was painted just a few doors down from this townhouse.
I did see one Cadell painting at the preview for Bonhams’ Scottish Sale. But otherwise, I cloistered myself from other painters for the duration. Studying art while in the midst of an important painting muddies my vision.
We’d planned an unveiling for 4:30 yesterday. Yesterday, my client chipped a tooth and needed emergency dental work. By the time he came back, I’d cleaned up my kit and we’d returned the drawing room furniture to its usual places. He looked at the painting, made a brief, eloquent, and complimentary speech, and then turned back to spend more time with the piece. I can’t remember a word he said, but the model was happy, the patron engaged with the painting, and I breathed a great sigh of relief.
My client inspecting the finished work.
Someone asked me how I was able to estimate my time so precisely. Part of that comes from painting for a long time. I’m pretty certain how long it takes to finish a canvas. But part of that is also confidence—not in my own abilities, but in God. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?” Jesus famously asked. I get up every morning knowing that the God who has brought me this far intends to carry me through. That saves me a lot of worry and self-doubt.
I’m off to Ionain two hours and still have not packed. I first visited this island in 2016. Since then I’ve longed to return and paint its white sands and tropical aquamarine waters. This takes me, once again, in the footsteps of the Scottish Colourists. Here Cadell worked in a much looser style, as befits plein air, but on Iona I anticipate working in the manner of nobody but myself.

Style versus substance

I wanna go north, east, south, west
Every which way, as long as I’m movin’…

My method of packing is to start with the important stuff, like vacuuming the floor joists in the basement. That’s excitement speaking. Like Ruth Brown, I’m happy as long as I’m moving. I’ve been home in Maine since February, when I went to Pecos, NM to paint with Jane Chapin. For my mid-Atlantic friends, the plein airseason has already started in earnest, whereas we in the north are just starting to believe the snow is finally behind us.
My current adventure started with a deceptively-simple question. Could I do a portrait “in the manner of Francis Cadell?” That the inquirer differentiated between “style” and “manner” meant that he wasn’t asking me for an imitation Cadell painting. I wouldn’t know how to do that.
Iona Croft, 1920, by Francis Cadell, courtesy National Galleries of Scotland
“In the manner of” has a specific meaning in art history, which is that it was done by a follower of a particular artist, but after the artist’s death.
Style, on the other hand, is the mark-making, composition, color palette and other visible attributes (or method of working) that give the appearance of the finished work. Style ties a painting to other works by the same artist, or to a specific period, genre or movement. It’s the art historian’s principle tool in classifying artwork. I can never be a Scottish colourist, any more than I can be a Canadian Group of Sevenpainter. Each of us is tied too closely to our own time and place in history, and imitating the Dead Masters is a sure path to mediocrity. But we can think seriously about the values those painters brought to their work.
Cadell had a palpable affection for his subjects: human, still life or landscape. Even so, people and objects were always somewhat subservient to their settings, which were frequently the Georgian rooms he occupied in Ainslie Place in Edinburgh’s New Town. Ironically, I’ll be painting just down the street, in a similar Georgian townhouse.
Full stop, by Carol L. Douglas. Well, we both like purple.
Cadell chose beauty over stylishness. The difference is depth and staying power. It takes some scratching to get down to fundamental truth. It’s easier to go for pretty scenes, cheap symbols or trendy commentary. But those things are only transient.
My old friend and model Michele Long used to say that figure painting was a collaboration between the artist and the model. I think that was a profound insight, but I’d add a third player: the audience, present and future. Art is primarily communication, and that requires that the subject, artist and audience all bring something to the engagement.
Michelle reading, by Carol L. Douglas
People sometimes ask me if there are paintings I would never sell. There’s one: my grandson Jake as an infant. (It was the last time he was ever still.) Once I’ve laid down my brushes, I don’t think of a painting as mine any longer. From that, it’s easy for me to realize that it was never really mine in the first place.
Thus, it isn’t about me, my skills, my whims, or my inadequacies, but about the subject and the viewer. That takes a lot of the ego out of the process, and makes me able to relax and enjoy painting.

When the artist likes his subject

I’m studying Francis Cadell before a portrait commission takes me to his home town.
Portrait of a Lady in Black, c. 1921, Francis Cadell, courtesy National Gallery of Scotland.
Winston Churchill hated his state portrait, painted by Graham Vivian Sutherland. It so rankled that his widow, Clementine Churchill, had her secretary burn it more than a decade after his death. That’s the fate of a portrait that pisses everyone off. It must have felt like a stinging rebuke to Sutherland, who was blameless.
Sutherland was not primarily a portrait artist, but a tapestry designer and landscape painter. He thoroughly embraced modernism. There are some artists who could combine that with warmth, but for most of the 20thcentury, modernism was coupled with cool disdain. Sutherland’s portraits, mainly done in the 1950s, are icily insightful. Many illustrious people sat for him, so he was a logical choice for the parliamentarians who commissioned the painting. Sutherland was fashionable.
Interior, The Orange Blind, c. 1914, by Francis Cadell, courtesy Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Unless Cadell was on a ladder, this is an imagined viewpoint.
Another painter who did portraits as part of a larger ouevre was the Scottish Colourist Francis Cadell. He was skilled at still life, interiors, and plein air landscapes. He was also a portrait painter in his native Edinburgh. Unlike Sutherland’s, his portraits are sympathetic. They tie their subjects to what interested him most—the house and furnishings that provided the setting.
Lesser thinkers might have made a cynical statement about materialism, and in more sophisticated cities, that would have been lapped up. However, there’s absolutely no condescension in Cadell’s worldview. He is as interested in interiors as they are. As an artist, he comes across as a thoroughly nice man.
The Parting, c. 1915, Francis Cadell, courtesy National Gallery of Scotland.
Cadell was the only Colourist to serve in the Great War. Before he was sent to the Front, he did a series of drawings in ink and watercolor. These are fast, witty drawings built on graphic design and splashes of color.
His later paintings worked off the same idea. He created meticulous, exciting value compositions in white, cream and black, and shot them through with highlights of bold color. That color was often red.
I’m studying Cadell because I’m going to Scotland next Spring. I’ll do a portrait, in a home on the next street to where Cadell lived and worked for nearly 12 years. He painted his Portrait of a Lady in Black, above, in his Ainslie Place studio. As with so many of his paintings, it’s as much a portrait of a place as of a woman. In fact, the model, Bertia Don Wauchope, was not a client at all, but his regular model.
We read the shape between the fan and her torso first, because it’s the highest contrast in the painting. Rapidly, though, we begin to see the spaces defined in mauve, and the reflection of her great hat in the mirror. It’s a stunning monochromatic composition alleviated only by the pink of that ridiculous flower and a slash of lipstick. And yet there’s nothing dehumanized about it.
The Vase of Water, 1922, Francis Cadell. His studio had mauve walls, so it’s an indication that the painting was done there.
The key to Cadell’s portraits are, in fact, his still lives. He ruthlessly reduced detail and shadow into blocks of brilliant color. Their main purpose was to provide a brilliantly faceted abstract framework. And yet there is a casualness to them that make them plausible moments stolen from life.
Sticking an international trip into my summer schedule is impossible, so I plan to go in May, as soon as the weather warms enough to paint outdoors. A side trip to Ionaseems inevitable. After all, that’s where I first met Cadell and the other Colourists. This time, I’m bringing my oils.

Like a rolling stone

I understand the impulse to go, but I’m also starting to consider the cost.
The Sound of Iona, c. 1928, Francis Cadell, private collection

This is the time of year when my husband and I look at each other and say, “we never go anywhere.” That’s ridiculous, since I have plenty of opportunity to travel. But I’m a restless soul.

One place I’d like to return, palette in hand, is Iona, in Scotland. It’s home to one of Christendom’s oldest religious sites, but it was also a favorite haunt of the Scottish Colourists.
These were four painters who brought Impressionism and Fauvism home and married them to their own native landscape. They wouldn’t have broken the constraints of Scottish tradition without leaving, but at the same time, they were clearly torn between the two milieus.
I understand the impulse to go, but I’m also starting to consider the cost.
A Rocky Shore, Iona, undated, Samuel Peploe, courtesy City of Edinburgh Council
Samuel Peploe was born in Edinburgh. He studied briefly at the Royal Scottish Academy, and then moved on to the Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi in Paris. His Scottish plein air work started in 1901, when he began traveling through the Hebrides with his pal John Duncan Fergusson.
In 1910 Peploe moved back to Paris. It was a short relocation; he returned to Scotland in 1912. During the 1920s, he summered on Iona with his friend Francis Cadell. He died in 1935, after advising his son Denis to not take up art as a career.
Dark Sea and Red Sail, 1909, John Duncan Fergusson, courtesy Perth & Kinross Council
Disenchanted with the rigid instruction available in his hometown of Edinburgh, John Duncan Fergusson traveled to Morocco, Spain and France, determined to teach himself. By the 1920s, he was settled in London. In 1928, he and his wife, dancer Margaret Morris, moved back to Paris, until the threat of another world war drove them home. They moved permanently to Glasgow in 1939. He died in 1961, a famous, feted artist.
Francis Cadell, too, was born in Edinburgh. He studied at the Académie Julian starting at the age of 16. Unlike his friends, Cadell spent his adult life in Scotland. As a consequence, he concentrated on intimately local themes—landscapes, New Towninteriors, society portraits, and the white sands of Iona. He served in WW1 with Scottish regiments.
Cadell died in poverty in 1937. His success is largely posthumous; his paintings now command upwards of half a million pounds.
Boats in Harbour, undated, Leslie Hunter, private collection
Leslie Hunter was the outlier.  He was born in Rothesay, the only town on the Isle of Bute. After the death of two of his siblings, his family emigrated to California. Hunter was 15. By age 19, he had moved alone to San Francisco, where he worked as an illustrator.
In 1904, Hunter made the requisite visit to Paris. He saw, for the first time, the fantastic ferment of Impressionism. He returned to San Francisco and began painting. This body of work was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Disappointed, Hunter returned to Scotland, settling in Glasgow. He was introduced to the Fauvists in a 1907 visit to Paris. There, his old buddy, Alice Toklas, took him to the Stein Salon. Hunter was shocked but impressed by the painting.
The outbreak of WW1 forced him back to Glasgow, but by 1927, Hunter was again in France, sending work back to Britain. In 1929, he suffered a physical breakdown. His sister fetched him home. Recovered, he still hoped to break out, this time for London. His health continued to fail and he died in a nursing home in Glasgow at age 54.
As I write this, I am reminded of a beach near me, also with white sand, also lovely. No chance of that, however; I’m leaving again on Tuesday.

White Sands of Iona

 “Iona Croft,” by Francis. Cadell, 1920

“Iona Croft,” by Francis. Cadell, 1920
Standing on the small track that passes for Main Street in Baile Mòr on Iona, a local man named Davy gave me a brief precis of local art history. (The similarities of his inflection to that of Canada meant I was able to easily follow him.)
Iona is associated with two Scottish Colourist painters, Francis Cadell and Samuel Peploe. “They liked to paint from Traigh Ban Nam Monach, or the White Strand of the Monks,” Davy told me. Peploe and Cadell first painted on Iona in 1920, returning there most summers.
“Iona Landscape: Rocks,” by Samuel Peploe. Both of these were painted from Traigh Ban Nam Monach.

“Iona Landscape: Rocks,” by Samuel Peploe, was painted from Traigh Ban Nam Monach.
I have only a vague knowledge of Scottish art history—the Glasgow Boys and the “first Scottish Impressionist,” William McTaggart. However I do recognize their position within the world movement toward plein air landscape painting that included Impressionism, the Heidelberg School in Australia, the RussianPeredvizhniki, and, of course, the Canadian Group of Seven.
“Iona, Looking North,” by Francis Cadell, was painted from Traigh Ban Nam Monach.

“Iona, Looking North,” by Francis Cadell, was painted from Traigh Ban Nam Monach looking back toward Mull.
I also felt the pull of the magically flat, cool light of Iona. However, I was booked to go to Staffa in a wooden tour boat. This unlovely but fast thing was custom-built for the tourist trade in 1990 using no plans, and it’s tight and sea-worthy.
Scotland is sometimes described as a nanny state, but in many ways it’s content to let people make their own choices in ways that we Americans have lost. For example, I stood along the forward deck of the ship, instead of packed in the hold with the other visitors. There was no mandatory lifejacket lecture and no particular safety devices on Staffa itself. This was a pattern we were to see over and over. Your safety is your responsibility, an attitude we litigious Americans seem to have lost to our great disadvantage.
Young seals off Mull.

Young seals off Mull.
On the boat trip back to Fionnphort, we were all rather pensive. Very seldom do I feel a strong urge to return to a place, and usually that isn’t shared by my fellow passengers, but the pull of Iona is very strong.  Each of us plotted, in our own way, a plan to return. For me, that means a trip with my painting kit.