The Scottish Visitors: Berthia Hamilton Don-Wauchope

Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell 1883–1937, Portrait of a Lady in Black, about 1921. Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. Bequeathed by Mr and Mrs G.D. Robinson through the Art Fund, 1988

A drawing room with lilac walls and highly polished black floors—and a pile of props like top hats, opera cloaks, and fans. Read more about how Cadell used his spectacular living space to inject a little glamour into his portrait of our next Scottish vistor, Berthia Hamilton Don-Wauchope, the artist's 50-something neighbor from Edinburgh. The except below is from the  exhibition catalog for Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland, available for purchase in the Museum Store.

Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell 1883–1937, Portrait of a Lady in Black, about 1921

Cadell is one of four artists known as the ‘Scottish Colourists’, the others being S.J. Peploe, J.D. Fergusson and George Leslie Hunter. Influenced by French painting – initially the Impressionists and later the Fauves – they brought intense Mediterranean colour into their own Scottish landscapes, still lifes and portraiture. Although the term ‘Scottish Colourists’ is now in common usage and gives the impression that the four constituted a coherent school, it only became common currency following an exhibition of their work in 1948, when three of the four were already dead.

Cadell was born in Edinburgh, and studied in Paris from 1899 to 1902. He served with The Royal Scots during the First World War. In 1920 he moved to a flat in Ainslie Place in the Edinburgh New Town. His magnificent quarters extended over four floors. The first floor had splendid front and back drawing rooms linked by double doors, and these rooms feature as the central subject of a number of his paintings. The walls were painted lilac and the floorboards were a highly polished black. Furniture was kept to a minimum. Glamorous props such as opera cloaks, top hats, black fans, fine china and his own paintings were added for pictorial effect and reappear in the paintings of the 1920s. During this period he abandoned the loose, impressionistic handling and soft tones of his pre-war work, for more geometric compositions and vivid, acidic colours. He also took to cropping the compositions very tightly, to achieve an angular, almost two-dimensional effect that compares with contemporary Art Deco painting in France by figures such as Georges Lepape and Jean Dupas. It has been said that a typical Art Deco picture should have such a narrow depth of field that it could be peeled off the page like a transfer or a sticker, and Cadell’s Portrait of a Lady in Black passes that test.

The model in the painting is Berthia Hamilton Don-Wauchope, a neighbour who posed frequently for Cadell from about 1911 to 1925. She would have been inher late fifties when the portrait was painted, but Cadell’s flattering and stylish portrait makes her look younger. The still-life painting behind her is also by Cadell. He often included colours in the titles of his paintings, in much the same way that the artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, one of Cadell’s early heroes, had done.

The Gallery of Modern Art has a strong collection of work by the Scottish Colourists, but this painting is perhaps the most popular of them all. Exhibited at the annual Royal Glasgow Institute exhibition in 1921, where it carried the then-substantial price of £250, it was part of a collection of paintings bequeathed to the gallery by Mr and Mrs G.D. Robinson through the Art Fund in 1988. -Patricia Allerston

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