Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell RSA, RSW was born in Edinburgh on 12 April 1883 at 4 Buckingham Terrace. He was the first born of Francis Cadell, a surgeon, and his wife Mary Hamilton Boileau. Cadell’s youthful aspiration to attend art school was encouraged by his liberal parents. After leaving the Edinburgh Academy at the age of sixteen, he moved with his mother and sister to Paris in 1899. In Paris he enrolled at the Académie Julian, a private studio school popular with expatriate students, at which Peploe had previously studied. Cadell returned to Edinburgh in 1902, where he exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy and Society of Scottish Artists for the first time.
In 1906 he and his family moved briefly to Munich, where he attended the Akademie der bildenden Künste, arriving back in Edinburgh in 1908. In 1909 Cadell mounted his first solo show in Edinburgh, which was largely unsuccessful. Cadell, however, benefitted from having been well travelled in his youth and he was able to capitalise on family connections, through which he met many of the future patrons who were able to support him through the financial uncertainties of his career. Among such figures was Sir Patrick Ford, who financed a brief but formative sojourn to Venice in 1910. During his stay in Venice, Cadell’s handling of paint became looser and more expressive and he began to experiment with increasingly vibrant colours.
Upon his establishment as a working artist in Edinburgh, Cadell successfully distinguished himself as a painter of portraits, figure subjects, still lifes and interior scenes, epitomizing the quiet elegance of Edinburgh’s New Town and appealed to its genteel denizens. As his artistic practice was largely confined to Scotland, Cadell was less responsive to continental developments than the other Colourists; instead he closely focused on studio and interior scenes, experimenting formally with colour and composition. Cadell’s relative artistic isolation and his regular painting trips to Iona have encouraged the perception that he is the most ‘Scottish’ of the Colourists.
Within Cadell’s concentrated focus on still lifes and interior scenes, there is a clear development of style in his oeuvre. In his pre-war paintings, Cadell’s paint handling is marked by a feathery ethereal quality. His early interior scenes also tend towards a restricted, harmonious palette of lilac-tinged whites, rich creams and greys. Works such as Miss Don Wauchope's Robe, painted at Cadell’s studio at 130 George Street, highlight the artist’s interest in the depiction of exquisite objects. The colour tones and focus on the effects of light in elegant interiors, such as Interior - 30 Regent Terrace, is redolent of Turner’s famous interior studies. Many of Cadell’s earlier interior scenes and figure studies share the soft, restricted palette with the portraiture and nocturnes of Whistler and John Singer Sargent.
By the 1920s the languid colouring and fluid handling of Cadell’s earlier works was displaced by an increasing interest in strident colours, a hardening of line and composition, and a flatter painting style marked by a matte facture. In Cadell’s interiors of the period the softness of the pre-war interiors is replaced by a racy Jazz-Age sensibility, the interiors are dominated by a geometric linearity and strong colours compete with an increasing use of flat black. The change in Cadell’s style coincides with his move to a new studio at 6 Ainslie Place, in a Regency town house on the western fringe of Edinburgh’s New Town. Cadell decorated his new premises in a bold colour scheme, influenced by the fashionable Art Deco style.
From about 1912 until at least 1933 Cadell visited the island of Iona virtually every summer, where he produced luminous seascapes and landscapes. Iona had particular attractions for the artist; the ever-changing weather, azure seas and pristine beaches were the perfect subject for the simple lyrical landscapes, which enjoyed commercial success. In 1924, for example, Cadell sold twenty-two Iona pictures and over thirty in 1925 and 1926.
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