What’s your favourite painting? This must be one of the most difficult questions I am asked – it’s like choosing your favourite child. My response can vary depending on the season or the weather, current topics of debate or simply how I’m feeling. With thousands of wonderful treasures in Aberdeen Art Gallery’s collection to choose from, picking just one is almost impossible. The redevelopment of Aberdeen Art Gallery between 2015 and 2019 was an amazing opportunity to take a step back, reappraise the collection and consider new ways of integrating themes and stories. As we packed up the paintings, sculptures and drawings in preparation for vacating the building, it was also a chance to discover new favourites amongst old friends. But it’s Covid-19’s impact on how we live our lives which has influenced my current Top Five. Like many, I rediscovered a fresh appreciation for nature on my daily lockdown walks. Living in a coastal town I am so fortunate to have easy access to the sea, cliff top paths and forest tracks. I explored them all, enjoying the certainty of seasons as spring became summer at a time when so much around us was uncertain. Now the days are shortening and autumn mists and colours dominate, reflected in my selection for October.
Gourdon Dusk by Ian Fleming
There are small harbours dotted up and down the east coast of Scotland, reminders of an era when fishing was a principal source of income for many families. Fleming painted many of these harbours. One of my favourites is his depiction of Gourdon, which hugs the shoreline, nestled at the foot of a steep road leading down from the busy A92 road. He paints the harbour from a vantage point high up the road, looking down on the geometric pattern of buildings and harbour quays. Much of the scene is in shadow as the day draws to a close, with the low setting sun catching only the buildings closest to the sea.
Harvest Time by Joan Eardley
Eardley is known for her compelling portraits of children from the east end of Glasgow. From 1952 she also lived regularly in Catterline, a small cliff-top fishing village, lying some 23 miles south of Aberdeen. She painted the wild seas below the cliffs and the surrounding agricultural land using a palette knife to spread thick textured paint. Here she has captured the edge of a harvested field, bounded by a line of trees and the crimson of late poppy flowers – a familiar early autumn sight in the countryside around Aberdeenshire.
Dunnottar Castle by John Piper
A few miles north from Eardley’s Catterline, sits the remains of Dunnottar Castle perched on a dramatic promontory – one of my regular coastal walks. There has been a fortification on this site since the 12th century and today it’s a popular location for photographers seeking to capture the unparalleled majesty of the location. The castle has been the setting for several important historical events. Notably, in 1651 the Honours of Scotland – the Scottish crown jewels – were hidden here whilst Cromwell’s men laid siege. Piper painted Dunnottar in dramatic strong colours, with swirling brushstrokes, capturing so successfully it's windy, sea-swept setting.
Miss Janet Shairp by Allan Ramsay
Portraits fascinate me. Like many of the Gallery’s visitors, I am curious about the sitters. Why have they chosen to wear those clothes? Is the portrait a true likeness? Was their life harsh or comfortable? The prestigious BP Portrait Award 2020 opens in Aberdeen Art Gallery this month, recognising the talent of portrait artists of all ages from across the world. Portrait paintings affirm again to me the continuity of humankind over hundreds of years and our ability to survive all manner of disasters and challenges. In the 18th century, it was a means of recording wealth and status, and Ramsay was one of the premier portrait painters of this era. He has painted Miss Shairp in a delightfully natural and informal manner. She wears a vivid yellow silk dress, her skin is peachy and coiffure immaculate. And her frank and unaffected gaze stares out at us, forming a direct connection with us across the centuries.
Honeysuckle and Sweetpeas by Winifred Nicholson
During lockdown I nurtured seedlings and planted bulbs, plants and vegetables in the garden with a renewed optimism, looking forward to when they would flower and be ready for harvesting. Nicholson spent a different lockdown – the wartime years – living in her parents’ home in Cumbria where the garden was an abundant source of inspiration for her paintings. A fascination with the pure colours of flowers and the impact of light is evident in ‘Honeysuckle and Sweetpeas’. The tones of yellow, accentuated by the contrasting pinks of the sweetpeas, make it a hopeful uplifting image, a reminder in winter of summer warmth and the delicate perfume of sweet-scented flowers.
Blog by Christine Rew, Art Gallery & Museums Manager