Consider the Lilies: A Second Look

July 2011

Publication: The Times

McManus Galleries

Dundee

Until 4 September

This show of paintings from the City of Dundee’s collection was originally conceived to celebrate the refurbishment and reopening of the McManus Galleries. The project began with an exhibition held at the Dean Gallery, Edinburgh in 2006.  In 2007, the show then toured to London at the Fleming Collection and Kirkcudbright. The exhibition was rehung at The McManus when it reopened in February 2010.

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The show’s present incarnation, is a second, modified hang in George Gilbert Scott’s splendid gothic revival building – now modified and modernised by Page/Park architects.  Located in the relaxed, considered and redefined civic space of Albert Square, the McManus now no longer feels and looks like a traffic island

Just as the revamped civic space has created a renewed dialogue with the building, so Scott’s reinvigorated Victorianism now creates a renewed context for the display of art.

This selection, built around the years 1910 to 1980, focuses on Scottish artists many of whom have some association with the city. Thus are included well known figures such as Alberto Morocco, S J Peploe, John Bellany, ‘the two Roberts' (Colquhoun and MacBryde) and James McIintosh Patrick. There are many lesser known names also including David Foggie, Alan Fletcher and Stewart Carmichael. The last, a Dundonian, who died in 1950 studied in Antwerp and was Governor of Dundee College of art from before the war until his death.

Carmichael’s work, like that of  a number of others, here came from the now disbanded Orchar Collection.

Disappointingly, only two women artists feature – Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Anne Redpath, although the contemporary collection includes work by emergent artists such as Pernille Spence and Anya Gallaccio.  Barns-Graham – whose reputation has continued to grow since her death in 2004 – is represented here by what appears to be a work of almost total abstraction, ‘Orange, Black and Lilac Squares on Vermillion’. Painted in mid career in the late Sixties, it is in fact a form of notation - the changing colour sequence reflects the phrasing of the Lord’s Prayer

Far from cool and considered intellectual abstraction Barns-Graham’s work was always rooted in her experience - emotional and physical - of the world

Redpath, Barns-Graham’s senior by nearly twenty years, was a very different kind of painter and whereas the younger artist escaped the belle peinture  ethos of Edinburgh College of Art (where both artists trained) Redpath was content to work within its idiom.  ‘Eileen in a White Chair’, painted in the mid-Fifties, was considered by Redpath to be less portraiture and more an essay in composition and paint. Despite the vigour of its brushstrokes and the vivid colour of its paint, the subject, a young woman, appears morose and introspective. Atypical, it reveals something of Redpath’s promise had she chosen to take her work in another direction.

As the show’s titles implies, this collection certainly deserves a second look.