Of all the genres of fine art, Redpath is most closely associated with that of the still life. Her love for this theme stretches back to her student days at Edinburgh College of Art, as she recalled:
When I was at college I was very fond of still life. People said I wasn’t actually painting what was in front of me, that it was a vision of still life. Those were more impressionistic than I have ever done since, because I was terribly keen on light, high pitched light and shadow, and I used more of an accidental quality than I have ever done since.1
Indeed, the first work which Redpath exhibited in public was titled Still Life and was displayed at the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) in 1919. Following her marriage in 1920 and fourteen years spent living in France, Redpath returned to Scotland in 1934. She resumed painting in earnest and emerged as an artist of importance. This was recognised by the first acquisition of one of her works for a public collection, when the RSA purchased the still life The Lace Cloth for £50 in 1944 (acc.no.2006.37).
Admiration for her still lifes soon spread to England; when the Sunday Times art critic Eric Newton reviewed the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) exhibition of 1948, he exclaimed ‘Anne Redpath’s still lifes stand out like patches of blue sky on a grey day.’ii The following year, Redpath moved to Edinburgh where she set about decorating her new home with the objects she loved to collect and which were often the subject matter of her work.
The striking patterned vessel in Marguerites provided one such prop. The bright blue which covers most of its surface is the perfect complement to the variously coloured titular flowers which spill out of and over its neck. The arrangement is set upon a square of fabric, itself placed on an enigmatic surface, with hints of the surrounding space provided in the background. Redpath’s relish in the application of paint is clear from the precise detailing of petals, to the broader brushstrokes with which expressive swathes of the support are covered.
Redpath’s professional success continued unabated and on 13 February 1952 she was elected a full member of the RSA, the first female painter to achieve that rank. In the same year she moved to 7 London Street in Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town, which was to be her home for the rest of her life.
Redpath discussed the objects she collected and lived amongst, explaining in 1961:
With my awful magpie tendency to collect things I have collected so many objects around me that are paintable. I buy them because I like them…any artist really becomes very aware in a visual way…and therefore you surround yourself with these things which are ready to be painted and ask to be painted. Sometimes for months you’re not really aware of them then suddenly a light changes or you feel different and suddenly you see those things as you would in a picture and you either help their arrangement or it just so happens that an artist almost sub-consciously does arranging all the time.iii
Still Life on a Red Ground is a later, majestic work painted on an unusually impressive scale. A selection of objects, from wine glass to bunch of glasses, has been carefully and unsymmetrically arranged. The varying spaces between the elements creates relationships and visual rhythm over the striped surface on which they sit, which is tipped up to the frontal plane. Redpath forgoes classical notions of perspective, form and volume as depth is flattened and an abstract field of colour is formed in the background, with the layering of warm and dramatic tones. A single broad and bravura brushstroke of white dispenses with any illusion beyond the fact of the canvas on which the work is painted. This avant-garde approach was partly the result of Redpath’s engagement with developments in contemporary French art – not least having seen exhibitions of Nicolas de Staël and Tachisme mounted by the Society of Scottish Artists in Edinburgh in 1954 and 1956.
Redpath’s mature career settled into a pattern of regular travel abroad as well as solo and group exhibitions in Edinburgh and elsewhere, accompanied by an ever-growing professional standing. In 1960 she became the first Scottish woman to be elected an Associate of the RA. Her death in Edinburgh in 1965 was marked with multiple memorial exhibitions, including those mounted by the RSA and the Scottish Committee of the Arts Council of Great Britain; still lifes featured prominently in all of them.
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