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.

In the drawing room, drawing

The social role of 19thcentury artists was ambiguous, just as it is today.
Heads of Six of Hogarth’s Servants, 1750-55, William Hogarth, courtesy of the Tate Gallery
William Henry Fox Talbot was an English scientist and inventor. He helped create the modern photo developing process. A classic 19th century polymath, he was also an avid Assyriologist and a Minister of Parliament.
Talbot lived for many years in Edinburgh. His longest stay was in the house where I’m working. He lived here with his wife, two unmarried daughters, a visitor, a butler, a footman, a lady’s maid, a cook, a kitchen maid, two upper housemaids and a lower housemaid. That’s eight servants to wait on five people.
A good part of my day yesterday was spent resolving a drawing problem with the floor-to-ceiling shutters. Those in the drawing room are not the same as those in the music room. It’s possible that I’ve stared at those shutters more intensely than since they were last dusted by a Victorian housemaid.
George Clive and his Family with an Indian Maid, 1765, Joshua Reynolds, courtesy Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
“A visitor” may have been a euphemism for a professional assistant, a worker who would have been neither upstairs nor downstairs but occupying the netherworld between classes. An artist employed to paint a portrait of the mistress of the house was of uncertain status. Had I the reputation of Sir Edwin Landseer, I might have been in a guest room on the fourth floor. More humble artists would have been squashed in with the senior servants on a lower floor.
Only a handful of households were able to employ the vast array of servants we’ve seen on television. ‘Upper’ servants were the butler, footmen, cook, housekeeper, senior maids and governess. ‘Lower’ servants were the kitchen and scullery maids, laundresses, nursemaids, housemaids, and outdoor help.
To afford a maid-of-all-work, a household needed an income of around £150 per annum, or the very bottom of the professional classes (£18,000 in modern money). This poor skivvy worked terrible hours doing dirty work—cleaning and restocking the heating grates, emptying chamberpots, scrubbing, washing dishes, doing the laundry, and even cooking.
I needed a t-square to draw those shutters properly.
Male domestics were taxed, so they were a sign of a wealthier household. Talbot did not employ a housekeeper, so managing the household would have fallen within the butler’s remit. By the time a man could afford a butler, he had an income of more than £1000 per year (£120,000 in modern money).
The garden floor retains its original layout under its slick new surfaces. There’s a large kitchen with scullery and pantry behind. There would have been a ‘coal hole’ somewhere along an outside wall. The next floor up would have been the domain of senior servants. It might have included a box room where the master could conduct his experiments in photography.
Walking young Poppy in Moray Gardens.
I’m upstairs, working in the drawing room. These are long days behind the easel, if I’m to finish this portrait in a week. At noon I walked down to Princes Street to find a t-square. Then I worked until the natural light had turned sour. My subject was at the symphony, so I snagged her dog and walked through gardens and along the Water of Leith as twilight rose.
Now I must catch her for a few moments before she’s off to St. Andrews and golf. But first, she made me porridge and left it in the Aga, because I’m actually an honored guest. Our 21st century social roles would have seemed inscrutable to Henry Fox Talbot.

The servant stairs

My diet is in tatters but I’m on schedule with the portrait.
I spent most of my time yesterday moving the coffee table from place to place trying to make an interesting geometry of that bottom left corner.

Mary Killen tells the story of Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) and his lifelong enmity to Colin Tennant. It began when Armstrong-Jones was told to go to the tradesmen’s entrance while photographing Tennant’s wedding to Lady Anne Coke. The two men had been at Eton together.

I’d assumed it was a story of injured amour-propre. This week I’ve spent some time on the servants’ stairs of a Georgian townhouse, and my sympathy for Lord Snowdon has increased (albeit marginally). I would not have enjoyed hefting the absurdly-heavy photography equipment of 1956 up and down those narrow stairs, skirting past the maids and footmen I ignored in everyday life.
I’ve rearranged the furniture, set up my easel, and otherwise made a terrible mess of the drawing room. That’s a James Morrison landscape overlooking my shoulder there; a happy omen, if you ask me.
The house in which I’m working has had many iterations since its construction. The main staircase, very grand, rises in a beautiful spiral from a first-floor vestibule. There is a modern staircase, added after the building served a stint as offices after World War 1, when the house was converted to flats. This staircase connects the first floor with the basement floors into a three-story unit. But in its original form, the public rooms of this house—the first floor, the piano nobile above it, and the bedrooms above that—were effectively sealed off from the tradesmen’s entrance by this lack of public staircase.
The only staircase which ran the height of the house was a stone one, intended for servants. Despite my familiarity with historical English novels, I didn’t fully grasp what this meant until I’d trotted up and down them a dozen times.
It’s easy to feel how intimidated a homeowner would be at the idea of running down those service stairs to check on the operation of his own home (if such an outlandish idea had even occurred to him). The stone steps are set as far back as is possible without actually being in the garden, and they’re not easy on the feet. They are narrow and turn fast in their circular shaft. The humble historical housemaid must have had legs of steel.
I captured my subject briefly for a quick drawing and managed to make her look all of fifteen years old. The bones are right, however, and I’ll try again today.
The modern Scots who live in these terraced houses are more fit than their American cousins, with our easy, lazy two-story homes. The stone stairs are now the main stairs between the garden-level kitchen and the main rooms of the house. Our host, a man in his fifties, regularly trots up and down them. I’m working in a drawing room, and I’m not as strong as a Regency lady’s maid, so I recruited my husband to carry my easel and kit up for me.
This room is a symphony of indirect light and beautiful paneling. The setting is very lovely, but I don’t want to allow it to dwarf my subject. I spent the day carefully measuring and plotting my composition.
I’ve also managed, occasionally, to sit my subject down for some preliminary drawings. I’m afraid I’ll need a butterfly net and some duct tape to fully capture her. She’s a very energetic woman.
Then there is the city itself, which is hilly and congested. It was a foggy, rainy evening, and our hosts graciously took us to dinner. We took a cab there and walked home; the trips took the same length of time, and walking was frankly more pleasant.
I had Shetland scallops, served very differently from the bay scallops at home, with a dry white wine along the lines of a vinho verde. This was followed by a nightcap of a private cask single-malt whisky. My diet is in tatters but I’m feeling less guilty than you might think.

The Athens of the North

Edinburgh is a glorious medieval, Enlightenment, Victorian layer cake whipped up by canny Scots.

“The Liberal Deviseth Liberal Things,” and if a man can make a few dollars in the bargain, that’s all to the better, egh?

I defy anyone to sleep in the economy class of a modern airplane. My solution to the transatlantic night flight is to grit my teeth and suffer through the next day, allowing my body to recover at night. No, said my hostess. You’ll feel far better if you rest for a few hours and then restart. With childish stubbornness, I refused.

Instead I headed to the Greyfriars Art Shop on Dundas Street to collect my canvas. There I had trouble remembering the term white spirits, which is what the rest of the world calls mineral spirits. Mercifully, I recognized the Winsor & Newton bottle. “That!” I stammered. By the time I got to my bed, I was sinking fast.

Francis Cadell’s last house on Ainslie Place preserves the open plan of the original Moray Estate townhouses. This allowed the owner a view of neo-classicism to the front and ‘wilderness’ to the back. I peered intently, but didn’t see the mantle in front of which he painted Portrait of a Lady in Black

Three hours later, I awoke miraculously refreshed and quite happy. The sum total of my work toward my project was to take my model into the drawing room in which I will be working and discuss clothing, lighting, and the furniture. Then we took an amble.

Edinburgh’s New Town is the largest and best-preserved example of Georgian town planning in the UK. The severity of its terraces and monuments is offset by abundant green space, now budding out in green and frothed with bluebells and hawthorns. It will be my temporary home for the next week.
The New Town (as distinct from the medieval street plans of Old Town) was started in the second half of the 18th century. It is strictly neo-classical in design, in keeping with the intellectual fashion of the moment.

A back garden along the Water of Leith.

Edinburgh was the seat of the Scottish Enlightenment. This was the distinctly Scottish version of an international outpouring of scientific and intellectual achievement. The Enlightenment as a whole affirmed the importance of human reason, and the Scottish form was practical in nature. It’s upon this that the Scottish reputation for invention and engineering is based.

Not only were Scottish achievements prized in their own right, but their principles were carried around the world, particularly to Canada and the United States. They’ve profoundly affected our material and economic culture to this day.
My own perambulations took me out through the back garden down to the Water of Leith, a small river that touches the city center at the New Town. Below me was the pump house for St. Bernard’s Well. Its name comes from the almost-certainly-spurious legend that the spring was first discovered by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian order in the 12th century. In 1760, it was conveniently rediscovered by three members of George Heriot’s School. At the time, ‘taking the waters’ was all the rage among the well-heeled, based on the example set in Bath.

Victorian Hygieia presides over the Georgian temple and purportedly-Medieval well.

With typical Scottish practicality, a new pump room and ornate structure were designed for St. Bernard’s Well and then marketed aggressively:

This water so healthful near Edinburgh doth rise
which not only Bath but Moffat outvies.
It cleans the intestines and an appetite gives
while morbific matters it quite away drives.
(Claudero, or James Wilson)

In 1884 the property was purchased by publisher William Nelson, who commissioned the statue of Hygieia and then gave the property to the city. It’s a capsule history of Edinburgh as a whole: medieval fable capped by an Enlightenment temple, with a Victorian diety overseeing it, all whipped together by a bunch of canny Scots with an eye to the main chance. Ah, what a glorious city!

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.

Stag for sale

“The Monarch of the Glen,” 1851, Sir Edwin Landseer

“The Monarch of the Glen,” 1851, Sir Edwin Landseer
Sir Edwin Landseer’s The Monarch of the Glen is perhaps the most widely-copied of Victorian paintings. It has been used for everything from the Hartford Insurance Company’s stag logo (c. 1867) to biscuit tins and butter wrappers.
Completed in 1851, it was part of a three-panel commission destined for the Refreshment Rooms of the House of Lords in the ‘new’ Palace of Westminster.  The House of Commons, however, balked at paying Landseer’s bill of £150. That’s about £17,000 in today’s money, whereas Monarch is valued at about £10 million. Apparently, the 19th century House of Commons wasn’t very good with money.
 “Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner,” 1837, Sir Edwin Landseer

“Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner,” 1837, Sir Edwin Landseer
Monarch was sold instead to one Lord Londesborough for 350 guineas. Londesborough sold it to Lord Fitzgerald, who in turn sold it to Lord Cheylesmore. It was owned briefly by the Pears Soap Company and sold in 1916 to Thomas Dewar, who wanted it for the Dewar whisky business in Perthshire.
From there it became a corporate asset, traveling with the Dewar’s name as it was absorbed into larger and larger companies. Eventually, Dewar’s was bought by the world’s largest manufacturer of booze, Diageo. They sold the brand but kept the stag. In 1999, Diageo loaned the painting to the National Galleries of Scotland, where it has hung ever since.
“A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society,” 1838, Sir Edwin Landseer

“A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society,” 1838, Sir Edwin Landseer. Landseer had a thing for Newfies.
Having decided that the painting has no relevance to its current brands, Diageo has decided to peddle the thing at public auction in March. If the National Galleries can raise £4 million from the public, Diageo will donate the remainder of the value of the painting. (If you are interested in contributing, you can do so here.)
When Landseer painted Monarch of the Glen, he was working within a craze for all things Scottish. Greatly influenced by Sir Walter Scott’s romantic novels, young Queen Victoria and her husband first visited Scotland in 1842. It became one of their favorite hang-outs. Whisky itself was newly respectable after the Excise Tax of 1823 legalized its distillation. Forever after, whisky and stags have been linked together in our sentimental view of Scotland.
Landseer is most famous for his lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, but he was a prolific and popular painter of Victorian sentimentality. When he died in 1873, all Britain mourned. By the 20th century, when Monarchwas being slogged around for advertising purposes, Landseer’s animal portraits were anathema to high-brow art critics. We are more or less past that now.
“Man Proposes, God Disposes,” 1864, Sir Edwin Landseer

“Man Proposes, God Disposes,” 1864, Sir Edwin Landseer
I can’t imagine how much money has been made by The Monarch of the Glen in its 165 years. It’s sold soap, insurance, whisky and everything else. (In modern America, artists don’t automatically transfer licensing with works of art, thank goodness.)
Diageo is under no legal obligation to give Monarch to Scotland. However, it has indirectly—through the acquisition and resale of the Dewar’s marque—made a lot of money off the old stag.  Since its net income last year was in excess of £2 billion, it wouldn’t suffer from writing off the whole £10 million tab.
Still, I expect the Scottish people will stump up the £4 million. Here’s hoping that The Monarch of the Glen stays in Edinburgh forever.

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.

Getting it right

Landscape Remembered, 2010, James Morrison, oil on board
James Morrison, at age 82, seems to break most of the conventional rules for plein airpainting. His work is huge, painted on paper boards, and the paint is so thin that I had to check to be certain it was, indeed, painted in oil.
Having never been to Scotland, I am no judge of whether he is true to the landscape, but his work is romantic and monumental and it speaks to me. In some passages it soars with almost negligent disregard for the paint, in others, the detail is overwhelming. It reminds me most of calligraphy in that the open space is as important as the line itself. And of course his draftsmanship and perspective in the glowering clouds is superb.
Half Demolished Tenements, 1964, James Morrison, oil on canvas
My friend Martha Vail recently sent me a book of his work, Land and Landscape: the Painting of James Morrison. I find his perambulations through the decades of his career to be most heartening. He did monochromatic studies of a blackened Glasgow; he did exquisite studies of beeches in the style of Andrew Wyeth; he experimented with op-art and abstract-expressionism.
Perhaps if I live to 82, I’ll get it right, too.
“For any serious artist it is the next work which is the most important and complacency is the negation of creativity,” wrote Guy Peploe, the Scottish Gallery’s director. “So it is for Jim Morrison at eighty. He is lucky, even blessed, with the energy, vitality and curiosity that are creativity’s handmaidens and in this new body of work we can see new departures as he looks again at his favourite landscapes in all seasons and moods.”
Summer Fields, Balgove, 1987, James Morrison, oil on gesso board
Born in Glasgow in 1932, James Morrison studied at the Glasgow School of Art. In 1957, he founded the Glasgow Group of artists with Anda Paterson and James Spence. He is an Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy and a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour. He taught at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee for 22 years before retiring in 1987 to paint full-time.
I have two openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.