Cadell created images of arresting beauty by way of carefully chosen, arranged and depicted props, including favoured and highly-coloured flowers, fruit and ceramics. These paintings illustrate the significant development in Cadell’s practice after demobilisation and moving to 6 Ainslie Place in Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town in 1920. Moreover, it was with works from this period that he established his reputation as one of Scotland’s most important artists of the twentieth century. Cadell decorated and furnished his magnificent quarters with aplomb and celebrated its interiors and objects d’art in images characterised by a new firmer technique, flatter rendering of form and use of saturated colour.
As Alice Strang has explained:
This marked change is thought to have been encouraged by Cadell’s new surroundings, by his close collaboration with Peploe immediately after the war, by his interest in the Art Deco movement, and possibly in response to the squalor of the trenches. (Alice Strang, F. C. B. Cadell, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2011, p.40)
Cadell and Peploe had met in Edinburgh by 1909 and these two paintings pay testament to the closeness of their friendship, especially in the early 1920s; Peploe lived a short distance away from Ainslie Place, in India Street. At this time both were drawn to the visual possibilities of tulips, the only flower which continues to grow after being cut. This phenomenon gives rise to the graceful arabesques of their stems which Cadell depicted so deftly. The forms of the flower heads, the layering of their petals and the dense colouring of their leaves also provided an inspiring source of silhouette, colour and mark-making.
The earlier Still Life (The Tulip) is an image of extraordinary modernity; its tight handling, brilliant palette and suppression of volume embody the Art Deco style before the exhibition from which that term was derived was mounted in Paris in 1925. It may be set before a wall on the ground floor of Ainslie Place, which Cadell is known to have painted dark blue, green and brown above a light grey floor. The internal framing device around the jug is believed to be an empty white frame, of the type which Cadell often used for the presentation of his work. The cropped, asymmetric composition sets up a striking relationship between tulip head and fruit, whose brilliant colour stands out against the dark background and tabletop.
As Strang has continued:
There are precedents in Art Deco painting and the lacquer work of Jean Dunand, but these still lifes are really Cadell’s own creation and count among the most remarkable paintings in British art of the period. (Strang, op.cit., p.41)
A label on its reverse reveals that Still Life (The Tulip) was included in the key exhibition, Paintings by S. J. Peploe, F. C. B. Cadell and Leslie Hunter (working title Three Scottish Artists) held at the Leicester Galleries in London in 1923. It was organised by A. J. McNeill Reid, son of the Glasgow-based dealer Alexander Reid and did much to secure the artists’ standing in the English art world. Cadell showed thirty works, of which he recorded the sale of five, for a total of £180, all to Alexander Reid, in his Register of Pictures (1923 no.s 8-12, Private Collection on long-loan to the National Galleries of Scotland).
Cadell’s register reveals that tulip still lifes were a popular subject during the early 1920s. One first appears in 1921 (no.12) as selling to A. J. McNeill Reid for £80, whilst ‘Tulips’ sold in 1923 to Alexander Reid for £40 (no.8); by 1924 prices had fallen to £8:8:0, for an oil sold at J&R Edmiston, Glasgow (no.9) and £2:0:0 for another of the same title at Dowell’s Ltd, Edinburgh. Two years later however, the market had improved and Cadell recorded the sale of White Tulips for £30 (no.25).
The slightly later Still Life with Tulips bears a price of £65 on its reverse and overflows with Cadell’s confidence and sophistication. He now revels in the reflective glaze and voluptuous qualities of the blue jug, this time set against the lilac walls of the first floor at Ainslie Place. A tablecloth and black fan with winding ribbon (a prop which Peploe also favoured) add to a sense of a cultured lifestyle. Spatial layering is complex and successful, from the cropping of the lemon in the foreground suggesting the wider space existing beyond the confines of the canvas, to the progression of green tea bowl, to lemon to blue and white oriental vase. Tulip heads are seen straight on and in profile, stems and petals overlap each other and their companions, whilst shadow is subtly implied by way of clearly visible brushstrokes. The lighting is soft, the palette combines gentle tones with pure brilliance and each item contributes to an overall sense of balance.
Still Life (The Tulip) and Still Life with Tulips date from the most successful period in Cadell’s career, which began with his arrival at Ainslie Place and ended with his departure in 1931. They show how he used simple still life props as symbols of beauty when creating paintings which are as stunning now as they were when they were created a century ago.
NICK CURNOW | HEAD OF DEPARTMENT
0131 557 8844
ALICE STRANG | SENIOR SPECIALIST
0131 557 8844