McLean Art Museum

The McLean Art Museum in Greenock, Inverclyde, is known for hosting a variety of unique events. It is their ingenuity in creating such interesting exhibits that sets them apart from other small galleries and has earned them a strong reputation.

But seldom is it that such a small gallery is home to not one, but two paintings by The Scottish Colourists.

That’s right, the little old listed building in Greenock is currently hosting one painting by John Duncan Fergusson and another by his comrade in art, Francis Cadell. This is a poignant year for the Colourists with several large events being held around the country in high-profile locations, such as the Kelvinhall Art Gallery in Glasgow.

At The McLean, the pieces reside in the upstairs gallery where they form the focal point of an attractive selection of carefully chosen pieces, many of which were created by local artists. But do not be mistaken into thinking that these are local artists from the present day. No, all the artists’ work is from the golden age of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, with some impressive pieces of realism from the turn of the century, if not earlier.

The collection displays a charming account of factors that mean most to the area, as well as complimenting each other in their range of styles. The area has always been proud of its strong connection to the ship building trade, despite the fact that this is no longer the main function of the local terminus. As a result, several of the paintings feature a watery theme, using a range of abstract and realism to show the diversity of the local talents. This mix is something that the Colourists would have been pleased to be associated with, as it reasserts their progression with artistic styles.

The Colourists started as more Realistic painters than their later Impressionistic styles, and tributes to this can be seen in some of Cadells’ work – even his later pieces. He was a fan of using gems of Realism to accentuate the less defined features of the piece.

This particular Cadell is called Crème de Menthe and bears resemblance to one of his more Realistic paintings, the dark and moody Orange Blind. Both are continuations of an idea that fascinated him: the luxury of French Impressionistic subject matter, including crème de menthe, lavish costume and the wealthy preoccupation with entertainment of a refined sort. This painting features a woman surrounded by items that would have been considered expensive at the time including fruit and fine china, while the lady herself is dolled up in an outfit almost overdone in its eccentricity – the exact matter to attract Cadell’s brush.

The Ferguson is in a far more quintessentially Impressionistic style. Cassis is inspired by the French. It was the artists of this country that shaped the four Colourists’ view that black and white was dated and lacked passion or imagination, and that there was not enough freedom or colour in art at the time of their becoming professional artists.

This view of France was one he painted many times, from different angles, so as to capture it in all its glory – for this was the place in which he found an artistic home. The painting is large, light in colour, and the artist’s state of mind can be clearly felt emanating from the frame. He was joyful as he painted; this was a scene he loved and while the strokes are abrupt, the smudges of colour across the canvas are block-like to the point of being almost Cubist. It has a peace to it.

The rest of the gallery displays prime example of local talent, including some stunning sea scenes. Some are breathtakingly detailed, others hypnotically sparse. Artists from this area tend to enjoy capturing the Clyde at its wildest.

I would highly recommend making the effort to meander your curious feet to Greenock if you are looking for an adventure. The gallery may be small, the museum mainly filled with local history, but it is so steeped with it that it drags your soul back and rewinds time so that you feel transported to ages gone by. It is enlightening.

Article by Gemma Clark


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