Posted: 27th August 2020
Over the years, Ferens Art Gallery has established a noteworthy holding of modern Scottish art. We look at works by four Scottish women artists which now belong to Hull.
Art training for women in Scotland was transformed by Fra Newbery (1855-1946) during his Directorship of Glasgow School of Art (GSA) between 1885 and 1918. Unprecedented numbers of women were employed by and enrolled at the school, who are now celebrated as the ‘Glasgow Girls’ artists and designers. The group includes Bessie MacNicol (1869-1904), who was born in Glasgow and studied at GSA from 1887 until 1893, before attending the Académie Colarossi in Paris.
MacNicol painted Two Sisters (Mother and Daughter) in 1899, the year in which she had a solo exhibition at Stephen Gooden’s Art Rooms in Glasgow and married the consultant gynaecologist Alexander Frew (1861-1907). They lived in the Hillhead area of Glasgow in a house which had formerly belonged to the artist D. Y. Cameron (1865-1945); MacNicol used his spacious studio. Two Sisters (Mother and Daughter) has an ambiguous title and is as intimate in subject as it is in size – it measures 28 x 37cm. A young girl is seen nestled into the lap of an older girl, or young woman, the former looking directly at the viewer, the latter gazing to our left. They are shown in a sun-dappled outside setting. Whilst the sitters’ facial features are defined, their bodies and indeed the rest of the work are realised with loosely descriptive, obvious brushstrokes, using a bright palette. It is an extraordinarily free technique for Scottish art of the period, with passages which are almost abstract, particularly at the right-hand side.
MacNicol exhibited internationally, from Belgium to Germany, Austria and America, as well as in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. However, complications arising from pregnancy brought her promising career to an end and she died aged thirty-four. Two Sisters (Mother and Daughter) was purchased by Ferens Art Gallery in 1991.
Although born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Cathleen Mann (1896-1959) is claimed as a Scottish artist, as her father the painter Harrington Mann (1864-1937) was Glaswegian and through her marriage to the Scottish aristocrat Francis Archibald Kelhead Douglas (1896-1954), the eleventh Marquess of Queensberry. Mann attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London during two distinct periods, from 1913 until 1915 and again from 1923 to 1924 and she also received lessons from Scottish artist Ethel Walker (1861-1951).
Mann exhibited extensively, including at the Royal Academy, Royal Scottish Academy, Royal Glasgow Institute and with the Society of Women Artists and had several solo exhibitions in London. Although also a designer of costumes and posters she is most celebrated for her stylish portraiture, as seen in Diana Napier (1904-82) (Mrs Richard Tauber) of 1936. The actress Napier married the singer Tauber (1891-1948) on 22 June of that year in Marylebone Town Hall, an event covered by Reuters news organisation.
In the painting, the glamorous Napier is shown in a three-quarter length pose, wearing an elaborate outfit which may be a professional costume. Her beauty is the focal point of the image and she confidently meets the viewer’s gaze. The auburn of her curls, the black of her apron and the yellow object on which she rests her left-hand provide the colour axis of the image. A gentleness of palette, paint application and light characterises the rest of the work, contrasting with the sitter’s star presence.
Mann was elected to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters before working as an official war artist during World War Two. She died by suicide in 1959. Diana Napier (1904-82) (Mrs Richard Tauber) was purchased by Ferens Art Gallery in 1937.
Anne Redpath (1895-1965) was born in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. She studied at both Edinburgh College of Art and the nearby Moray House College of Education between 1913 and 1919. Following her marriage to the architect James Beattie Michie (1891-1965) in 1920, the couple moved to France where they had three sons and lived for fourteen years. Redpath took what would now be called a ‘career break’ during which she concentrated on motherhood, including as a lone parent from 1934 when she returned to Scotland with her children.
Redpath re-established her career in the early 1940s and moved to Edinburgh in 1949, where she lived for the rest of her life. It was about this time that she painted Eileen, one of a series of portraits of her daughter-in-law, the scientist Eileen Michie (also née Michie, 1927-2003), who married Redpath’s youngest son, the artist David Michie (1928-2015) in 1951. Eileen is seen seated in an armchair, absorbed in reading a book. Beside her a table is set with teapot and teacup. Greatest prominence is given to the sitter’s dress, with Redpath enjoying the flow of its grid pattern over Eileen’s lap and legs. Its yellow background and the book’s red cover contrast with the majority of the canvas which is painted in muted tones of grey, lilac and white. The overall atmosphere is one of peace and contentment.
Redpath achieved great professional success, not least becoming the second woman ever to be made a full Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy and the first Scottish woman to be elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in London. She died in Edinburgh in 1965. Eileen was purchased by Ferens Art Gallery in 1950.
Pat Douthwaite (1934-2000) followed a more unusual route to becoming an artist. She was born in Glasgow and met the Scottish Colourist John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961) when she attended classes taught in the city by his partner, the dance pioneer Margaret Morris (1891-1980). Essentially self-taught himself, Fergusson advised Douthwaite against formal training. She left Scotland for England in 1958, married the illustrator Paul Hogarth (1917-2001) in 1963 and they had one son. The family lived between Cambridge and Majorca during the 1960s. After the end of the marriage, Douthwaite travelled extensively and painted sporadically, as poverty and mental health issues permitted.
It is little surprise that the non-conformist Douthwaite was drawn to the rebel subject of Belle Starr (1848-89) of 1979, the American outlaw officially called Myra Maybell Shirley Reed Starr. Starr grew up in Missouri and the various illegal activities of her adulthood saw her convicted of horse theft in 1883 before being shot dead six years later and two days before she turned forty-one. In Douthwaite’s portrait, Starr is rendered armless, almost entirely flattened against the picture plane, wearing a stylised patterned-dress and an imposing hat. She is set against a background which surely references the iconic orange and white striped covers of Penguin’s fiction range, introduced in 1935. Starr’s facial expression is grim, she is entirely lacking in femininity but exudes power.
Douthwaite finally settled in Dundee, where she died in 2002. Ferens Art Gallery purchased Belle Starr (1848-89) in 1985.
This guest blog was written by Alice Strang.
Alice Strang is an art historian and curator of modern and contemporary art
Tell Us What You Think
We’d love to know what you thought about our From the Stores blogs. Your responses will help inform our decision-making around programming of future works, both digital and in-person. Please help by completing our short survey Click here to Complete Survey