Patricia Douthwaite’s monumental self-portrait, Shall I go to Poland with a Garland of Kippers? of 1985, leads a group of four works by the artist, acquired from Douthwaite during the 1980s by the same private collector.
Douthwaite was born in Glasgow in 1934. She took classes with the dance pioneer Margaret Morris (1891-1980) and as a result met Morris’s partner, the Scottish Colourist J. D. Fergusson (1874-1961). When Douthwaite decided to become a painter, Fergusson advised her against formal training, declaring ‘Go to art school? If you to go art school, you’ll never be an artist – you are an artist.’1
Douthwaite embarked on a bohemian, itinerant career as an ‘outsider artist’. She poured her lived experience into emotionally charged work which can be at once unflinchingly honest and lyrically beautiful. Expressive draughtsmanship and high-keyed colour were used to convey psychological states from melancholic to humorous. Shall I go to Poland with a Garland of Kippers? captures the artist in a rare moment of reverie, about which has been written: ’Here in an unmistakable likeness of the artist, eyes looking quizzically upwards at an angle under a yellow fringe, her pink lips and leaf-form earrings lending an exotic air to her musings.’2
Much of Douthwaite’s work explores female subjects with whom she identified closely. Death in Dieppe comes from a series inspired by the artist Gwen John (1876-1939), whose brother was the painter Augustus John (1878-1961) and who had an ill-fated relationship with the sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). In 1983 Douthwaite travelled to Gwen John’s house in France, as noted in her diary on 23 May: ‘Walking past the Chateau Vaux Claire I pick a rose from Gwen John’s garden, my dreams are all of her. It seems her only crime was love – her magic was her sorrow revealed through the message of her paintings.’3
Douthwaite exhibited widely and was the recipient of several awards. Indeed, Shall I go to Poland with a Garland of Kippers? featured prominently in the major touring retrospective of her work which opened at the Third Eye Centre, Glasgow in 1988. Moreover, it was reproduced on the exhibition poster, two copies of which accompany the painting.
However, this outward professional success was often combined with financial struggle and mental health challenges. The correspondence with the artist which accompanies Shall I go to Poland with a Garland of Kippers? illustrates one of the inventive ways in which she tried to secure an income. In a letter dated 16 December 1985 she explained: ‘My proposition is that each collector signs a Bankers Order of the sum of £25 a month over a period of 40 months. In exchange he / she can select one painting or three drawings of their choice…I shall arrange for a date when we can go to Whitby Oliver’s York warehouse where there are 1010 works to choose from…I am making this offer because being a professional artist with no other means of support is the hardest way to make a living and I must have the chance to continue to purchase working materials and to keep going.’
Two further works by Douthwaite included in the group of four from a private collection offered in our April 2023 auction are Lots 97 and 98, two examples from the 1970 Spanish Head Series.
Douthwaite’s life continued to be eventful until the end, with further exhibitions, house moves and periods of ill health. Since her death in Dundee in 2002, her unique place in twentieth-century Scottish art has been established beyond doubt.
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At Lyon & Turnbull, we handle prints from a wide variety of artists: from 20th century masters Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Joan Miro through to the British canon of printmakers including Dame Laura Knight, L.S. Lowry, Edward Bawden, all the way to David Hockney and Howard Hodgkin. Our auctions encompass printmaking created up to and including the present day, with artists currently working in these mediums, such as Tracey Emin, David Shrigley, Banksy and the Connor Brothers.
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