Eric Robertson is a fascinating figure in Scottish Art, and his works very rarely come onto the market, so we are delighted to be offering this significant painting by him, Le Ronde Eternel. Painted in 1920, it represents an important date for both the artist and the Edinburgh Group, his loose association of fellow artists and friends, who were organising group exhibitions in the Scottish Capital from 1919-1921. These exhibitions gained considerable exposure ‘we find undoubted signs of energy in place of ennui,’ but also a level of notoriety, as another contemporary critic notes: ‘usually people look to the Edinburgh Group, as we know them, for something unique, rather than universal; for something of pagan brazenness rather than parlour propriety. Half of Edinburgh goes to Shandwick Place, secretly desiring to be righteously shocked, and the other half goes feeling deliciously uncertain it may be disappointed by not finding anything sufficiently shocking.’ Robertson was a vital member of the group, alongside his wife, the artist and illustrator Cecile Walton, and he drew some of the most scandal, for both his paintings, and his complicated personal life.
Originally a pupil of John Duncan, he appears to have fallen slightly out of favour with the older artist due to his suggestive, rather than classical, depiction of the nude. In Le Ronde Eternel, which translates to ‘the eternal circle,’ we can see both sides of this: the decorative effect, gentle palette and dreamy, symbolist quality that we can associate with Duncan, but also the element of suggestion, with the nudity of the left-hand figure made more explicit by its clear contrast with two other partially clothed figures.
Le Ronde Eternel is one of only two completed related paintings, along with Love’s Invading, from a planned series of five, derived from Robertson’s 1915 drawing, The Daughters of Beauty. John Kemplay describes the drawing as portraying a ‘host of young women, some of his acquaintance and some of his imagination, set against a backdrop of architectural features of Edinburgh and Dumfries, the town in which he was born.’ During the war, Robertson served in France with the Friends’ ambulance service, but returned to the subject after this period to complete the larger scale paintings. In Le Ronde Eternel we see a similar tension played out as in the drawing; between the real and imagined, figures known and created, and the undefined fantasy location with recognisable architectural elements. The figure on the right has been identified as the dancer Lucy Smith, and the reality of her identity and low lying neckline again adds a layer of suggestion to the scene.
Robertson’s talent had drawn attention from art school days, and it is no less clear here. His vision is striking and playful: harmonious colour and charm abound, and the result is vital and rhythmic, even if a clear meaning is more difficult to substantiate. There is something eternal and timeless about this painting, yet it also feels rooted in a very particular moment.