Wednesday, 15 February 2012

William Gillies - Landscapes and Still Lifes

As it's the half term break, I took a trip through to Edinburgh to catch up on a few shows.  Top of the list was the William Gillies exhibition at the Scottish Gallery.

Gillies was born in Haddington in 1898, was one of the Scottish Gallery's major artists, but remains rather under-rated.  His work is quiet and subtle, with reflective interiors, views from windows, or locally Scottish landscape scenes done from the side of the road where he could park his car.  He was a well-loved teacher, and taught Elizabeth Blackadder.

This is a sepia ink drawing of Trees near Temple (Temple being Gillies's home from 1939 until his death in 1973).

It's dense, because you are glimpsing houses through tree trunks and branches, but there is a lovely calmness to it. There's also a mischevious sense there, as you're given a playful little glimpse of the buildings.  The trunks of the trees are left blank, giving a lovely vertical airiness to the piece, balancing the complexly busy horizontal band.

On the Meldons Road, painted in 1953, is a lovely subtle pastel-coloured watercolour.

It's not a painting that shouts; it doesn't depict a dramatic mountain or an extraorinary moment.  The hillside rolls up towards the sky with great familiarity, like a comfortable bedspread, and the wall at the bottom tells you that everything is very safe and enclosed and ordered.  It's a very truthful and contented piece of painting, both a recognisably real Scottish place and also about pattern-making on a 2-dimensional surface.

I also loved this little watercolour of Rockcliffe.

It's just such a happy painting, with the shape of the boats mimicing both the clouds and the waves, as if everything is just right together.  The warm yellows and earthy oranges of the hillside complement the strong blues of the sea and sky, but the blue tones are also carried through the hillside, so that everything is harmonised.  The line of the land meeting the sea is squint, making it feel natural and organic, otherwise there would be a harsh line chopping the composition in half.

Also on show was this lithograph, Cottage Window, of 1946, produced for the Arts Council.

I was very interested in this, because I have one!  I got mine many years ago at the Barras.  The example in the Scottish Gallery has faded somewhat, with rather sludgy colours.  The one I have has much brighter pinks and oranges.  I asked what the edition size was of the lithograph, but unfortunately they were unable to tell me.

I love Gillies's paintings and drawings, especially the landscapes.  They're just very, very Scottish.  I think he's really under-rated, and I'd love to own one - apparently the Scottish Gallery used to have a bargain bin of his watercolours which you could pick up for 20 guineas - sadly, no longer!

The show continues at the Scottish Gallery until 3rd March. For more information, and to see all the work in the exhibition, go to the Scottish Gallery website.

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