The Two Roberts: Review

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is hosting the first retrospective of  the work of Robert Colqhuoun and Robert Macbyde  two talented Scottish Artists who found success in the London Art scene  in the 1940s and 50s. Taken up by Peter Watson who published the Art and Literary magazine Horizon, the two Roberts were soon taking centre stage in a bohemian art world the members of which frequented the pubs and clubs of Fitzrovia and Soho. Their fashionable Kensington studio played host to the likes of Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Dylan Thomas, John Minton , Wyndam Lewis , John Deakin  and when down from Scotland, Hugh Mac Dermid  and Ian Hamilton Findlay .  Success followed quickly and there were soon to be known as  ‘The Golden Boys of Bond Street’ where they taken up by the Lefevre and Redfern Galleries.

Of the Open College of the Arts students who gathered on a cold November day for a study visit few had heard of these two artists who had spent all their working lives in London and the South of England.  Here was an opportunity to look at the work of the Two Roberts collected together for the first time from major Art Galleries and private collectors. Collecting information that could be included in log books, the group of Painting, Drawing and Textiles students followed the ups and downs of the Roberts eventful lives that were to result in their early and tragic deaths.

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Theirs was a style that was influenced by the Europeans and especially by Picasso and Braque and it showed the existential influence that pervaded post war Paris. While Colquhoun worked figuratively and had the greater reputation – Wyndam Lewis considered him the best of the younger painters – MacBryde concentrated on still life. The revelation of the show however is the series of figure paintings by MacBryde that are easily the equal to his partners work and while they might lack Colquhoun’s angst ridden persona, they make up in strong design, colour and dramatic content.

With sketchbooks at the ready, the OCA students annotated and recorded the paintings on the walls in traditional manner. Photography was strictly disallowed, so the students were left to exercise their drawing skills to best advantage and this proved to be a highlight of the day. Discussion continued at lunch and the students enjoyed the chance to communicate with likeminded students who had come from as far away as the Heal of Italy and as far north as the Isle of Lewis.

Jim 2014 Edinburgh

Fashion is a fickle thing even in the fine art world and many a big reputation has been brought low by too strict an adherence to an outmoded way of working.  In 1962 Colquhoun died of a heart attack while preparing for a show of monotypes ,a medium he had made his own ,while MacBryde died 4 years later knocked over by a car as he danced a gig outside a Dublin pub at closing time.

This show is a chance to reassess the work of Colquhoun and MacBryde, two bright stars who fell from grace but  whose work still gives pleasure to many and can be now viewed at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in  Edinburgh until 24th May 2015.


  1. Annette Bruton 18 December 2014 at 10:51 pm

    I am really pleased to have been one of the students on this study visit. This was my third study visit as an OCA student and it was outstanding. I go to lots of exhibition anyway and this was an exhibition I would have gone to, but my goodness what a difference it was being part of this study group.

    We got started right away at 11am when we all met up. Jim put everyone at their ease then put us to work! I knew little about these two painters. They are mentioned in most 20th century art books on Scotland but are never prominent: their work is instantly recognisable but rarely seen.

    It was such a great chance for OCA students to have a tutor led study visit to a rare (unprecedented) opportunity to see the works of Colquhoun and MacBryde brought together. We were encouraged to look, discuss and learn about the artists and their practice in detail. I’m a textiles student and still at level one and whilst I do work in my sketchbook I am not yet a confident drawer. Nonetheless, encouraged by Jim, we all set about studying and drawing to better understand what we were seeing. I built up more confidence and skill yesterday in doing this than I have over the 18 months I’ve been an OCA student.

    The other aspect of the visit that made it outstanding for me was the depth of the teaching and learning. Jim was extremely knowledgable about the artists, their work and the context in which they were working. Making the connections between these two artists, their contemporaries and the art scene at the time, the talks Jim gave us at each stage of the exhibition was peppered with amusing anecdote and real in depth understanding. I’ve been an educator most of my working life and, sparing your blushes Jim, this was teaching at its best.

    I will go back to the exhibition again a couple of times as it relatively near me and I am certain that my study visit will help me really look and study the work in the way our OCA courses hope we will learn to do.
    Thanks for the opportunity.

  2. Margaret Borthwick 19 December 2014 at 3:59 pm

    I totally agree Annette. It was one of the best study days that I have been to. Jim’s in depth knowledge of art in general and the two Roberts and the relaxed atmosphere of the day made it memorable. He also presented us with printed sheets of some paintings and a chronology of their lives. Other than the lunch break we spend the whole time going around the exhibition sketching ,looking and learning.

  3. oliviairvine 23 December 2014 at 9:09 pm

    It sounds like a really good study visit. I am looking forward to seeing the show.


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