Review: A New Era, Scottish Modern Art 1900 to 1950
By Nisan Igdem
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s new exhibition "A New Era: Scottish Modern Art 1900 - 1950" examines Scottish artists' reactions to the movements in continental European art. It is the first time that such pieces have been exhibited together and the modern side of Scottish Modern Art is revealed.
Scottish interest in Modern Art started when John Duncan Ferguson, a Scottish Colourist, decided to move to Paris in 1907. From then onwards, the European influence on Scottish art started to be felt. One of Fergusson’s paintings, displayed in Room 1, La Terrasse, Café d’Harcourt, 1908, is from the beginning of the century. The painting depicts a woman in a café opposite the Sorbonne University in Paris. Although Fergusson is still true to his Colourist style, the subject matter is of Paris’s “café society”, reminiscent of the Impressionists, such as Edouard Manet. In late nineteenth century, as the social life of Paris began to change, paintings showing this new side of Paris were very popular. The artist was, as a modern man, a flaneur, a wanderer of the streets and depicter of modern life. Although a decade late, with La Terrasse, Café d’Harcourt, John Duncan Fergusson is joining the tradition and establishing himself as a modern man.
Later in the century, through the effects of Futurism, speed and movement gained new meanings in art. Influenced by the Italian Futurists, Stanley Cursiter painted The Sensation of Crossing the Street - West End, Edinburgh in 1913. He embraces the fragmented style, trying to convey the rapidity of the busy street in Edinburgh. All of the figures are in pieces, except the face of the woman in the foreground. It looks like her face is frozen in time, while everything else around her is moving. The effect of Futurism on the UK was developed further in the Vorticist movement in 1914. A primary player in this movement was Wyndham Lewis, whose works can also be seen in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Another notable artwork from the exhibition is Alan Davie’s Jingling Space, 1950. Before painting this piece, Davie traveled through Europe for nine months. There, he came across Surrealism and automatism as a way of painting. Automatism is when the artist allows the subconscious to take over the act of creation; working without the intervention of the consciousness as much as possible. This technique had a great influence on the later abstract expressionist movement, as can be seen in paintings by Jackson Pollock. However, Davie’s approach to automatism is a little different to others'. While he was living in London, Davie worked as a jazz musician. In Jingling Space, he brings together the improvisational aspect of jazz music with the spontaneity of automatism.
Overall, A New Era: Scottish Modern Art 1900 - 1950 offers a different view on Modern Art, and reminds the viewer that art history is not limited to the centre-periphery paradigm, which places Paris at the centre of global Modernism. The exhibition is welcoming visitors until 10 June 2018, and it is an experience that should not be missed.
‘Art Term: Automatism’, Tate. (http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/a/automatism)
‘La Terrasse, Café d’Harcourt’, National Galeries Scotland, 2001. (https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/59266/la-terrasse-caf%C3%A9-dharcourt)
Macmillan, Duncan. ‘Art Review: A New Era, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh,’ The Scotsman, 19 December 2017. (https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/art/art-review-a-new-era-scottish-national-gallery-of-modern-art-edinburgh-1-4643105)
‘Jingling Space’, National Galleries Scotland, 2017. (https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/468/jingling-space)