I am trying to trace Watercolour Art by my father with a view to an exhibition and a documentary, which will put him firmly back on the map as one of the finest Scottish Watercolour Painters of the 20th century. I am his only surviving relative.
Robert Scott Irvine DA RSW SSA (16.03.06 to 03.09.88) is one of Scotland's most undervalued Watercolour Painters. His influences were vast, and - in this highly specialised medium - his exemplars were possibly more English than Scottish.
An admirer of John Sell Cotman's 19th Century Landscape Work, and, in particular, his usage of strong tonal contrasts through natural evening sunlight - such as Greta Bridge, Yorkshire - my father's work also utilised some of the muted tones seen in Francis Towne's (1740-1816) Windermere Watercolours, but applied here in a Scottish context: i.e. in R Scott Irvine's early Arran and Scottish Highland Landscapes. Nevertheless, his work was far more modern than the aforementioned Watercolourists. Some of the decorative design of his contemporary Edward Bawden (1903-1989) filtered into his compositions, but was only hinted at in a subtle fashion, and the architectural style of Eric Ravilious' (1903-1942) Newhaven Harbour (1937) bears a subtle similarity to some my father's works. They were both contemporaries of one another.
Some of Glasgow hero Charles Rennie Mackintosh's (1868-1928) spirit of decorative ‘Art Nouveau’ design is hinted at in my father's work from the 1920's, only. The ‘Lino Cut’ seen on the site and undertaken when at Edinburgh Art College, being an early example - albeit in a darker spirit!
Far more importantly, he was compared to Paul Nash (1889-1946) in a 1930 edition of The Dundee Evening Telegraph and Post when a half page spread was dedicated to the work of R Scott Irvine (seen within this site). Indeed, my father had been invited to exhibit alongside Paul Nash and his brother John Nash (1883-1977) in 1928 at the 6th Annual Exhibition of the Modern English Watercolour Society at St George's Gallery in Hanover Square, London, at the tender age of 22. The Daily Mail singled out Ben Nicholson, Richard Wyndham, John Nash, Paul Nash, and R Scott Irvine, as the most important artists within the exhibition, this lead directly to his being invited to exhibit at The Victoria and Albert Museum that same year.
The slightly surrealistic style of some of Paul Nash's work would influence my father (see Deadly Nightshade). More importantly John Nash's style and his usage of colour would also influence my father heavily. John Nash met my father and articulated a particular admiration for his Watercolours, citing the multiplicity of influences that would ultimately enable R Scott Irvine's work to be readily recognisable as his own.
He painted with strong tonal contrasts and linear edges, sometimes with a combined hint of the surrealistic whilst incorporating elements of decorative style. His work showed a liking for architectural subjects, as well as still life subjects, and, in particular, his main chosen area of endeavour, namely that of defining the Scottish Landscape in all of its glory, changing light, and weather conditions.
His sometimes surreal, bleak and still-like scenes often depicted crofts, moors surrounded by mountains, or burned-out Medieval Cathedrals from the Borders of Scotland. Dryburgh Abbey (1940) reviewed for The Student Magazine after the RSW annual exhibition at The Royal Scottish Academy in 1942 was described as a work of “genius”. It hinted at Gothic, but was very different to German Expressionism, and gave rise to the kind of imagery used by Set Designers in certain Genre cinema. Evensong (also seen on this site) purchased by Dundee Municipal Art Gallery in 1947 was recently described by one of the Gallery's curators as being quite “Vorticist”
Film Maker's Paid Homage
The celebrated British Film Director Michael Powell saw Dryburgh Abbey in Edinburgh in 1940 when he visited the Scottish Arts Club in Edinburgh. I believe he purchased some of my father's work, having admired his particular style of painting. The Hollywood film producer Luther Mendes considered Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens as the backdrop for a Hollywood feature film, after seeing one of my father's paintings of Edinburgh, as seen from a vantage point there. I gather that he also purchased some of my father's paintings. Mendes never returned to Scotland!
Paintings undertaken in the 1970's in the region of Scotland now simply known as Lothian were far larger than any of his earlier works. They had quite a contemporary graphic style to them and also had strong colours not seen in his earlier work. These Watercolours often captured the magic hour before sunset, showing freshly harvested golden fields or Castles such as Dirleton bathed in a warm orange light.
ART CRITICS & HISTORIANS
Some of the Art Critics of the 1970's really didn't understand his historically innovative context, and didn't actually acknowledge the fact that Otto - as he was affectionately known - had painted since the 1920's. Others with greater vision did appreciate his ‘context’. Not least Jack Firth RSW, author of Scottish Watercolour Painting, to whom I owe a considerable debt, not only as very dear and valued friend of my family, but for his incisive and descriptive obituaries of my father in the Scotsman newspaper on 7th September 1988 and the Catalogue for the 109th Annual Exhibition of the RSW at The Royal Scottish Academy in 1989 where three pictures which I own were exhibited. Jack Firth's perceptive and well researched obituaries play a huge part in the text you are reading here.
Robert Scott Irvine grew up in Morningside Drive, Edinburgh and went to school at George Heriot's from 1916 until 1922. Heriot's is one of Edinburgh's oldest school's. Built in 1628 it faces Edinburgh Castle and is situated a few hundred yards from Edinburgh's world famous Art College.
EDINBURGH COLLEGE OF ART
Born of working class parents - his father was both a Woodwork and Art Teacher at Edinburgh's Portobello High School, and his mother a Crofter's daughter - R Scott Irvine gained a scholarship to Edinburgh College of Art at the precocious age of 16 in 1922. He was President of the Student's Union in 1925 and President of the SRC in 1926 and graduated in 1927 gaining his Diploma in Art at 21. He studied painting under such teaching heavyweights as Henry Lintott, David Alison, David M. Sutherland, Adam Bruce Thomson and John Duncan.
By 1922 William Gillies (1898-1973) and the famous Twenty Two Group were leaving college, but were very much in evidence. Gillies would return to teach my father in 1925 (He taught at Edinburgh College Of Art part-time from 1925-34, when he became full-time, and remained there until 1966 by which time he was Principal).
Gillies painted two portraits of my father between 1925 and 1927, both currently in private hands and never seen publicly — apart from brief a display at George Watson's College when these works were loaned to one of my father's former pupils (in the early 1960's).
John Maxwell graduated the same year as my father (1927) at a time when Edinburgh College Of Art was in its glory days. Life long friends Ruth Moorwood (Munro) (1904 - 1985) and Alexander Graham Munro DA RSA RSW (1903 - 1985) were in the same year as my father; and three of ‘the quartet’ that have since become known as ‘The Scottish Colourists’ were in their final flourish of life (with the notable exception of J. D Ferguson who died in 1961). So good artists abounded in Scotland in the 1920's!
A lost Edinburgh College Of Art graduation party rag day photograph showed my father and his fellow graduates dressed in silks as Ali Ba Ba and His Forty Thieves on the steps of Edinburgh's Royal Scottish Academy — the photograph appeared in Edinburgh's Evening News and Evening Dispatch newspapers. These were heady times: Edinburgh's Roaring Twenties!
ELECTED TO THE SSA & RSW
My father was the first Edinburgh College Of Art graduate from 1927 to be elected to the RSW (Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour). He was elected in 1933 at the extremely young age of 28. (Virtually all of the RSW membership did not get elected until they were well into ‘middle age’ during this era!) This honour was one he valued with immense pride throughout the course of his life. His RSW membership followed on from his election to the SSA (the Society of Scottish Artists) in 1931 and his being awarded the Stuart Prize at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1932. By 1988, the year of his death, my father was the RSW's most senior member.
The Isle of Arran, in the firth of Clyde, was the native home of my father's mother Mary Irvine (formerly Mary Scott). My father spent his holidays there visiting his Grandparents small croft in Lochranza. He also had a fondness for Lamlash, Glen Sannox, and Brodick. His first Watercolour to be exhibited publicly, The Castles Of Arran was completed at the age of 16 on the Isle of Arran (and seen here on this site). He also sold Caistel Abhail to the Duchess of Montrose who then resided in Brodick Castle now owned by the National Trust Scotland. This picture had been exhibited in major exhibitions at the SSA, the RSW and The 19th Autumn Salon at the Grand Palais in Paris (alongside works by Jacob Epstein) in 1924 and 1925, respectfully. He was still an Edinburgh College of Art undergraduate, and only 18!
CITIES WHERE HE EXHIBITED: THE 1920's, 1930's & 1940's
The Royal Glasgow Institude of the Fine Arts
William Glllies, who became a great friend of my father, painted two huge life size portraits of my father in 1925, whilst my father was still an undergraduate. Around this time he exhibited with the sculptor Jacob Epstein at the 19th Autumn Salon at the Grand Palais, Paris, when Jacob Epstein was at the peak of his own creative and critical acclaim. He exhibited again with Jacob Epstein in 1935 at the The Annual RSW exhibition in Edinburgh. He went on to exhibit in Toronto, Canada in 1934 with the RSW touring exhibition, and had further exhibitions at the Salon in Paris and New York in the 1930's, and at the Royal Academy in London in 1940. However, he mainly showed his work in Scotland in Arran (Lochranza and Brodick) Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Dunfermline and Glasgow.
Aberdeen Art Gallery holds Hill Croft, Lochranza purchased in 1938 and Edinburgh's Royal Scottish Academy (holds Derelict Quarry purchased in 1933) These works were acquired for these permanent collections when my father was in the prime of his first wave of artistic vision. Dundee Municipal Art Gallery purchased Evensong in 1947. These paintings are still in their permanent collections and can be seen here in colour on this site) *See ‘Paintings In Public Collections’, also
He was also one of the very first Hill Climb Rally Drivers to race competitively, driving at the Scottish Hill Climb at Rest-And-Be-Thankful during the 30's. He drove there throughout the 40's and 50's as well as the Bo'ness Hill Climb.
He would also ‘circuit race’ competitively until the 1950's at Turnberry in Scotland, and Silverstone (where he drove in the Formula Libre category driving a car which he built and designed with his friend Gordon Lockhart, amusingly called the OttoCart and the AutoCart!) as well as Castle Donnington (aka Donnington Park) in England.
ART TEACHING CAREER
He became a Student Teacher at Moray House College, Edinburgh from 1927 to 1928. He did teacher training at George Watson's College from 1927 to 1928, and then became a professional Art Teacher in 1928 - first at Rochester House School and then at Harris Academy, Dundee (whilst living in Broughty Ferry) where he was Assistant Art Master from 1928 to 1931. He went on to teach at Edinburgh's Broughton Secondary School from 1931 to 1934 and nearby Bellevue Intermediate School from 1934 until 1936 — as well as teaching at Cargilfield College on Saturdays from 1933 until 1939. In 1936 he became Assistant Art Master to Ralph Hay at George Watson's College, Edinburgh. Ralph Hay thought he had “excellent teaching powers” and recommended Otto to be his successor upon his retirement, after the Second World War. In 1945 he returned from the War and became Principal Art Master when Ralph Hay retired. He was Head of the Sixth Form throughout the 1950's and early 1960's, finally retiring from Watson's at the age of 65 in 1971.
WORLD WAR TWO
RS Irvine in EgyptHe married an Art teacher affectionately known as “Elly Jay”(Eleanor Joss) whom he had been engaged to since the outbreak of the War, of whom I know very little. They divorced after the War. (She was never mentioned until the 1980's!)
He painted a magnificent scene of a crashed German War Plane shortly after it was shot down near Humbie in East Lothian after the first air combat of the Second World War was attempted on British mainland territory when German Bombers were foiled by the RAF in their attack on the Forth Bridge in October 1939.
Deadly Nightshade was the first painting by a Scottish Artist to depict the Second World War's direct effect on Scotland. It was also the first Scottish War Scene to be exhibited publicly in Scotland (at the RSW in the RSA in January 1941). It was also the first War Painting to be reproduced in a Scottish Newspaper. Period newspaper clippings from The Edinburgh Evening Despatch and the Scotsman bear testament to this fact. Otherwise simply go to the Scotsman Online and type in ‘25/01/41 RSW at RSA’ for the said feature.
This ‘missing’ painting, of which I have a ‘10 x 8’ black and white photograph and sketch of the former, can seen on this website. It was given an illustrated half page spread in the Scotsman on the 25th of January 1941 as well as featuring pictorially in the Edinburgh Evening Despatch and the 1941 Spring Edition of the Watsonian.
The Painting utilises artistic licence for reasons which were best known to my father. Deadly Nightshade shows an ME 109 Fighter, instead of a the actual German Heinkel Bomber that was shot down near Humbie after the attempted raid on the Forth Bridge in 1939 - the first German air raid on the British mainland of the Second World War. I believe that my father actually drew the salvaged ME 109 Fighter that was brought to Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens by the War Ministry in 1940 as his reference point. See ‘Update page’ for that Scotsman Article in a letter form the Assistant Curator of the Scottish War Museum.
Deadly Nightshade was I believe owned by Eleanor Joss until she died.
Inspired by the First World War Paintings of Paul Nash and his brother John Nash my father wrote to the War Ministry in 1939 and offered himself as a War Artist. The War Ministry replied stating that there were only to be “six artists officially employed” in that capacity. The process of setting up the War Artists Advisory Committee under Kenneth Clark was very complex and ultimately involved the wartime Ministry Of Information, together with all three War Services. Eventually many serving soldiers and active servicemen were to provide War Art. Had he been successful, my father would have been in good company - although obviously the War Artists were all deployed separately in varied locations. The Nash brothers, Edward Bawden, and Eric Ravilious - all of whom my father admired - were prolific official War Artists .
Inspired by the news that fellow Scottish Artist R. Henderson Blyth (1919 -70) had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, but continued to paint prolifically, my father joined up with the The Royal Army Service Corps in the Spring of 1941 at the age of 35 hoping to specialise in Camouflage and paint War Scenes during the process. This was not be.
He went to Aldershot to train as Private and, after having been stationed at various locations, made it to Sandhurst for Officer Training in 1942 before heading for Dungeness in Kent en route to serve as a 1st Lieutenant in Port Said in the Middle East where he worked as a Liaison Officer with the Royal Engineers and the 8th Army. He was involved in the planning and strategy of the Battle of El Alamein, and sworn to secrecy throughout!
Subsequent to this he was scheduled for a key role in the D Day Landings at Sword Beach in 1944, but disagreements with Command caused him to be stationed away from that conflict. Just as well really as virtually everyone who landed there was killed!
He returned to Edinburgh to teach Art at George Watson's College in 1945 and worked there until 1971, when he retired. *I have two War Paintings undertaken by my father during War Service.
A RESTRAINED BOHEMIAN PRE AND POST WAR
He painted in France in during the 1920's and also spent time in Morocco in the 1950's long before the beatniks and the hippies jumped on the bohemian bandwagon - living in the Riff Mountains and Tetuan with the late Alexander Graham Munro DA RSA RSW (1903 - 1985) and his wife Ruth Moorwood (Munro) (1904 - 1985) — now both celebrated Scottish Artists (and my Godparents) — and my late mother.
POST WAR EXHIBITIONS
He exhibited at Galleries in Aberdeen, Arran, Dundee, Dunfermline, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In Glasgow he exhibited at the Royal Glasgow Institute, and latterly at the Compass Gallery.
In Edinburgh he exhibited at Aitken Dott (now the Scottish Gallery), The Gateway Theatre (in 1957), The Torrance Gallery, whilst also exhibiting at the RSW's Annual Exhibitions at the Royal Scottish Academy and some RSA Exhibitions, too, along with solo shows at Edinburgh's Douglas & Foulis Gallery in 1973 (now no more) and the Paton Gallery in 1975 (now no more) with a final Retrospective at the Scottish Arts Club in 1978.
R SCOTT IRVINE PAINTINGS IN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE COLLECTIONS
His work is held in Public Collections in Aberdeen's Art Gallery, Dundee Art Gallery, and the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, the School of Scottish Studies (part of Edinburgh University) and Edinburgh's Education Department ‘Art Collection’, which is now under the control of Edinburgh District Council, and is possibly about to be handed over to Edinburgh's City Arts Centre collection. The painting denoted thus ‘Manse and Church, Temple’ can be seen in Jack Firth's excellent book Scottish Watercolour Painting (Go to Cities Where He Exhibited: The 1920's, 1930's & 1940's for specifics).
Works Confirmed - No images are available as yet
Untitled still to be located at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, and North Sannox, Arran in the Scottish Arts Club (illustrated in the Dictionary of Scottish Painting).
THE SCOTTISH ARTS CLUB, RUTLAND SQUARE, EDINBURGH (1938 - 1980)
He joined the Scottish Arts Club in 1938. He was President of the Scottish Arts Club Edinburgh, from 1952 until 1954 and was an active member until 1980. It was in the early days that he became great friends with fellow Watercolourist John Gray RSW and his poet brother Sir Alexander Gray who both served on the Scottish Arts Club's councils. John and my father painted together in the Scottish Highlands on many occasions. He had his final One Man Show at the Scottish Arts Club in 1978.
ACCREDITATION IN BOOKS
Asides Jack Firth's Scottish Watercolour Painting (now out of print) my father also currently appears in *David Buckman's Dictionary of Artists In Britain, The Dictionary of Scottish Art & Architecture published by the Antique Collector's Club, The Dictionary of Scottish Painting 1600-2006 published by Canongate, Who's Who In Art In Scotland, and Who's Who In Art.
- David Buckman's book was last published in 1998 and is due to re-appear in the summer of 2006 in an updated form. For more information on David Buckman's definitive Encyclopaedia of British Art, check out www.artdictionaries.com His book is published by Art Dictionaries, an associate of John Sansom & Company.
THE ‘PERNOD’ SCOTTISH ARTISTS' COMPETITION (1967 to 1976)
From 1967 until 1976 my father organised the ‘Pernod’ Scottish Artists' Competition which took place in Edinburgh and celebrated Contemporary Scottish Art at a time when Edinburgh was heralded as a cultural centre for innovative Modern Art - thanks not least to Richard Demarco HRSA RSW RWS SSA, whom my father invited to be one of the competition's six judges. The Exhibition started in swinging 1967 at The English Speaking Union Gallery in Atholl Crescent and then moved to the City Arts Centre (then at the site of the old Royal High School on Edinburgh's Calton Hill) where it ended in 1976.
My father virtually gave up painting in the 1980's and became housebound spending the final decade of his life dedicated to looking after my late mother who had a hellish illness, which would eventually lead to her demise - called Polymyositis it also killed the late Lord Olivier (allegedly!).
It's only a shame he didn't look like Reverend Dick Emery!
My father died of cancer in 1988 at the age of 83. Jack Firth's beautifully written testament of a full page Obituary written and published in the Scotsman newspaper was read out at my request to a large gathering of good friends at his funeral. This was undertaken by a former Moderator of The General Assembly For The Church Of Scotland - who insisted on taking the ceremony, despite both my father and I being atheists! “I insist on conducting the ceremony”, he said, as I stood there dumbfounded, minutes before the ceremony. (He came uninvited). It was very much a case of The Establishment hi-jacking Art. It's only a shame he didn't look like the Reverend Dick Emery! (pictured)
RE-APPRAISAL LONG OVERDUE
So much Conceptual Art has recently been celebrated as ‘Art’ that truly great painting, which displayed draughtsmanship with decoration, design, and composition, has become overlooked until its recent revival in London over the past few of years. Watercolour Painting, in particular, has been dismissed by many in the media for a very long time! Its time for a re-appraisal of great Scottish Watercolour Painting, especially in London.
Let's hope that this website helps to re-establish the work of R Scott Irvine to a worldwide audience.
HENRY SCOTT-IRVINE'S QUEST
I am currently trying to locate and obtain digital photographs of my father's paintings with a view to a retrospective and possible documentary in the near future. Please do contact me at the email address below, or via my cell phone, if you know of anyone who has my father's work in their possession, or if you have seen any of his work for sale anywhere.