In his painting Robert Gemmel Hutchison strove for an essential truth: to capture a common humanity in his subjects. His charming compositions provide an insight into the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century taste for scenes of Scottish rural and domestic life. Dissatisfied with his apprenticeship as a seal engraver, the seventeen-year-old Hutchison secured a place at the Manufacturer’s School of Art in Edinburgh, where he studied under William McTaggart. Here, Hutchison cultivated an admiration for McTaggart that would endure for the rest of his life, and which in part inspired Hutchison’s loose painterly technique and interest in everyday rural life. Hutchison developed a successful artistic career – he exhibited regularly at the R.A. and R.S.A., and was elected to a number of prestigious institutions throughout the UK. He is remembered today as an important Scottish painter of the early twentieth century.
Hutchison’s painting is distinguished by its considered deployment of colour: while in certain areas paint is applied in a more meditative, studied and precise manner, in other areas the application comprises of dynamic and frenetic flicks of vibrant colour. His connections with British Impressionism are clear, particularly when his figures are situated outdoors, where he demonstrates a remarkable ability to convey an immersive atmosphere through his varied brushwork. Look, for example, to the warm rays that dapple the smock of The Young Gardener, which Hutchison has conjured with careful, spare touches of pale yellow paint. Despite being composed of yellow, green and blue strokes, the surrounding foliage appears fully-realised, and seems almost to rustle with life.
In On the Dunes, Holland and Dutch Coffee, Hutchison’s distinctive vision is applied to scenes of Dutch life. These are of particular interest given Hutchison’s enduring fascination with the Hague School. Hutchison visited Holland in 1905, and was profoundly inspired by the paintings he encountered there, which he felt captured the reality of daily rural life without idealisation or romanticisation.
He was particularly struck by the work of Jozef Israëls (1824-1911), who painted scenes from the lives of fishermen, peasants or children. Upon his return to Scotland, he committed to painting en plein air with a looser, lighter, more painterly approach. He eschewed the sorrow that permeated Israëls’ painting in favour of more optimistic compositions rendered in lighter, softer tones. The selection of Hutchison paintings on offer demonstrate his innate ability to compose impressionistic strokes of colour into scenes that feel at once intimate and poignant.
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