Whilst serving in World War One, Cadell wrote to his fellow Scottish Colourist S. J. Peploe: When the War is over I shall go to the Hebrides, recover some virtues I have lost. There is something marvellous about those western seas. Oh, Iona. We must all go together. (quoted in Alice Strang et al, S. J. Peploe, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2012, p.24)
True to his word, Cadell introduced Peploe to the Hebridean island, off Scotland’s west coast, in 1920 and they returned there most summers for the rest of their lives. Cadell first visited Iona in 1912, possibly because it was owned by his friend Ivar Campbell’s uncle, the 9th Duke of Argyll. He may also have been encouraged to do so by the fact that his friend John Duncan began painting there in 1903, followed by James Paterson and William Caldwell Crawford.
As Alice Strang has explained:
Iona has many attractions for the artist…It is low-lying, so the light reflected from the surrounding sea intensifies the colours of the white sand beaches and the green of its pastures. The light shining through the shallow waters at the edge of the shore creates brilliant colours of emerald green, blue and violet. In addition, the light and weather change frequently, as the prevailing winds cause a quick succession of cloudy then clear intervals. Iona is known for its geological diversity and there is a wide variation of colours in its rock formations; the red granite of the Ross of Mull is easily visible across the Sound on the east coast, as is the mountain of Ben More. There are also numerous views beyond Iona, particularly from the north end towards Staffa and the Treshnish Islands. On the island itself the main architectural features are the Abbey, the Nunnery and related buildings, the village and scattered crofts.’ (Alice Strang, F. C. B. Cadell, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2011, p.77)
In 1903 Duncan moved to Edinburgh from America, where he had been teaching art at the Chicago Institute. A visit to Iona helped him to plan for the future and ‘he started by making a vow to devote his time to the realisation of spiritual art and to gather the crops of his imagination rather than let them rot in untended fields.’ (John Kemplay, The Paintings of John Duncan A Scottish Symbolist, Rohnert Park, 1994, p.43). Duncan played a key role in the Celtic Revival which blossomed in the 1890s and Iona provided the setting for some of his most important Symbolist works, which celebrated Celtic mythology; it was also where he is reported to have encountered Gaelic fairy-folk for the first time. Such was the inspiration that the island afforded Duncan, that he was to work there, on and off for forty years, often at the same time as Cadell and Peploe.
Duncan’s Cathedral Rock from the North End of Iona shows a view made famous by the more well-known images of the scene by his Scottish Colourist friends. Cathedral Rock is part of the headland at the extreme north-east corner of the island and is the location of some of its most dramatic geology. The view shown is out to Eilean Annraidh, Staffa and Mull. Auchabhaich Croft first appears in Cadell’s Register of Pictures (Private Collection on long-loan to the National Galleries of Scotland) in 1914 (work no.30), presumably painted during his trip to the island the preceding year. It is one of the crofts situated north of the village and Cadell was to paint it on many occasions, not least as it was not far from Cnoc cùil Phàil, the croft on which he most frequently stayed after the War. The buildings depicted nestled within Auchabhaich Croft, Iona still exist, albeit extended in various directions. A T. & R. Annan & Sons Ltd label on the painting’s reverse gives it the title ‘Nightfall Iona’ and the image appears to capture the gentle light of the gloaming, as evening falls over the peaceful scene with its reach to the Paps of Jura in the distance.
Mull from Iona leads the eye from a patchwork quilt of fields across the Sound to the neighbouring island, with particular attention paid to the tumult of weather conditions played out across the sky. This painting formerly belonged to Cadell’s great patron, the shipowner George W. Service, who holidayed on Iona. He reportedly donned a tartan dress jacket for the night of his annual purchase of work by Cadell and appears regularly in the artist’s Register of Pictures from 1913 until 1927.
Service would often make multiple acquisitions at a time, usually but not exclusively images of Iona, commissioned portraits of some of his children and supported the artist’s sales in exhibitions such as those mounted by the Society of Eight in Edinburgh. His support sometimes formed the backbone of Cadell’s income, for example when he purchased fourteen works in 1921 for a total of £725, which was 40% of Cadell’s recorded total sales of £1,786 for the year. Two years after Cadell’s death, Mull from Iona was one of three works lent by Service to the landmark Exhibition of Scottish Art mounted at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
Peploe was nearly fifty years old when he first painted on Iona. He was thus able to approach its visual possibilities with the experience of a mature artist and was particularly drawn to the natural beauty of the north end and the views from it. Treshnish Point from Cows Rock was painted in this area; its dramatic composition sees the beach and protruding rocks occupy all but the upper fifth of the image. Peploe’s technique uses the materiality of oil paint to convey a sense of the texture of sand and weathered rocks, around which inviting paths meander. Between the alluring blue of the sea and the active sky can be glimpsed the west end of Eilean Annraidh in the middle distance and Treshnish Point on the horizon. A closely related painting by Peploe, Iona, Grey Day, is in the collection of Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums.
NICK CURNOW | HEAD OF DEPARTMENT
0131 557 8844
ALICE STRANG | SENIOR SPECIALIST
0131 557 8844