Donald Bain - A Scottish Colourist

April 2000

Publication: The Times

The reputation of the Scottish painter Donald Bain, who died in 1979,  has long been overshadowed by other ‘Colourists’ such as  Fergusson and  Peploe.    This extensive survey, curated by the art dealer William Hardie, gives ample opportunity to re-assess Bain’s output; and, for many, it will act as an introduction to Bain’s work.

Bain is perhaps less well known than he should be, although the lack of consistent quality in the work partly explains this.  Fergusson and the others were simply better painters and, rightly, are more familiar.  The decision to bring together the work in such a comprehensive fashion, although laudable, also raises some questions.  A cynic might observe, for example, that such exposure will inevitably buoy the market for Bain’s paintings.  Additionally, how fair is it to the artist to include work which is so evidently sub-standard - for when Bain’s work is poor it is very bad indeed.

The forced naivete of some of Bain’s industrial landscapes painted in Glasgow just after the war are a case in point. There is no doubt that these these works were produced in difficult, if not desperate circumstances; but that is perhaps not justification enough for their inclusion here.

Stylistically, Bain’s work bears the influence of various masters, most of whom are French, such as Matisse, Roualt and Derain;  Picasso and Fergusson are also important.  But it is often impossible to discern any one stylistic trait which could unambiguously define a work as Bain’s.  Too often, the work imitates rather than appears influenced by the artist’s mentors.  In discussing ‘The Rising of 1745’ and ‘Children of Lyr’, Hardie observes that “...it is hard to believe that they were painted in the same year” (1945).  In fact, it is quite hard to believe they were painted by the same artist.

But when Bain is good, he is very good indeed, as is the case with  ‘Dunollie’ painted in the year before his death.  In it he has simplified and reduced the landscape to flat planes of colour so that it resonates with a kind of simple delight. In a work from 1951, ‘Red and White Sails’, Bain has used the decorative aspects of a harbour scene to create a study of colour and shape.  The subject matter and the quality of light are typical of those artists whom Bain so greatly admired.

Yet Scotland also provided the inspiration for a number of landscape works - one of the most successful being ‘Kyleakin’, painted during the war on a sojourn on the West Coast.  The painting rivals Redpath’s painting of the same name in its use of colour and simplified architectural and landscape forms.

Bain remained avowedly anti-establishment and anti-academic throughout his career; undoubtedly this stance made life more difficult than was necessary.  Yet Bain also enjoyed generous patronage and the constant support of his wife who worked in menial jobs to support her husband’s painting trips in France.

This show illustrates an intriguing and, until now, too little-known chapter in the history of Scottish art.

 

Donald Bain - A Scottish Colourist

The Collins Gallery

University of Strathclyde

Richmond Street

Glasgow

0141 553 4145

Until May 6

 

Published in The Times, Around the Galleries, 19-04-00