Cadell trained at the Académie Julian in Paris and at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich. He had his first solo exhibition in Edinburgh in 1908, which garnered twenty-five sales including to his school friend and future politician Patrick Ford. The following year, Cadell established a studio in George Street, in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town.
In 1910, Cadell received a cheque from Ford 'to go to Venice and paint. He to choose equivalent in pictures on return £150' (as recorded by the artist in his Register of Pictures and quoted in Alice Strang, F. C. B. Cadell, Edinburgh 2011, p. 17). It is no wonder that Cadell was attracted to Venice. Its romanticised reputation as an artistic mecca had been cemented in the nineteenth-century, with Lord Byron’s dramatic poetry and J. M. W. Turner’s evocative representations inspiring a generation of artists, each keen to depict the city’s unique vistas. Despite the explosion of tourist activity, Venice never became passé among artists. Manet and Whistler were drawn there, excited by the challenge of creating their own interpretations of lauded Venetian motifs. Though Monet resisted visiting until 1908, he too was stimulated by the beautiful architecture and mercurial light of the Lagoon and produced a series of atmospheric paintings which received wide critical approval upon their exhibition.
The Giudecca and Redentore, Venice comes from a beautiful series of works which marked Cadell's emergence as one of the most important Scottish artists of the twentieth-century.
The bright Mediterranean light shimmering off the canals had a marked effect on Cadell's palette, into which he introduced a much more vibrant colour range. Though it is highly unlikely that he saw Monet’s Venetian cityscapes at first hand, the tonal similarities of their work inspired by the city is striking; both artists punctuating the whites and creams of the sun-drenched architecture with pinks, purples and turquoises. Cadell’s technique became looser and more expressive than ever before. Bold, loaded brushstrokes were layered to convey the rippling surface of the waterways and fleeting impressions of passers-by. He revelled in the beautiful scenes by which he found himself surrounded and painted views as varied as that of a bustling St Mark’s Square to quieter, more contemplative corners of the city and its inhabitants.
The present work depicts one of Venice's most celebrated views. Against a backdrop of a vividly-realised sky, Cadell describes the distinctive outline of the Redentore, the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer and its architectural neighbours. He conveys reflected light with swift, delicate lilac flicks of his paint brush. As we lower our eyes and let them drift across the rippling waves of the Giudecca Canal, we meet the thoughtful figures at the water's edge. The surface of the painting is enlivened with rhythmic, distinct brushstrokes, with paint quickly applied 'wet on wet', giving a sense of the speed and confidence with which Cadell worked.
The results of Cadell's successful and productive trip were exhibited at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh in 1912 and proved to be a watershed in his burgeoning career. Ford selected six from the series for his collection, including The Giudecca and Redentore, Venice, which remained in his family for generations. Three further Venetian paintings were presented in Ford's honour to the National Galleries of Scotland in 2014.
Following the success of Cadell's breakthrough trip to Venice in 1910 and his subsequent solo exhibition at The Scottish Gallery, Cadell further cemented his professional standing by becoming a co-founder of the Society of Eight in 1912. His fellow members in this exhibiting group included John Duncan, James Paterson and Sir John Lavery. Cadell's work was represented in their first exhibition, mounted in the West End of Edinburgh that year, and in all of their subsequent shows until his death in 1937.
It was in 1912 and at this propitious point in his career that Cadell visited Iona for the first time. The island had found growing favour with artists since the mid-nineteenth century, not least with Cadell's Society of Eight colleagues Duncan and Paterson. He may also have been encouraged to travel there by his friend Ivar Campbell, the nephew of the 9th Duke of Argyll, who owned the island.
Cadell is as renowned for his depictions of the Hebridean island of Iona, as he is for his stylish still-lifes and images of Edinburgh's New Town interiors and inhabitants. Indeed, the importance of his Iona paintings was recognised by a room dedicated to them in the major retrospective of his work held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2011 and they were the subject of a chapter in the accompanying publication ('Warmed by the sun, blown by the wind': Cadell and Iona' in Alice Strang, F. C. B. Cadell, Edinburgh 2011).
Iona's attractions are many and varied and had an immediate impact on Cadell. As Alice Strang has written 'the ever-changing light conditions on Iona, the effect of sunshine on the shallow water along the beaches of dazzling white sand, the intensity and range of colour of the surrounding sea, sky and land, the complexity of its rock formations and wide range of views within and beyond the island, inspired Cadell time after time' (op.cit., p. 19). Cadell was to spend almost every subsequent summer there until about 1933, apart from during War service. He was happy for people to watch him at work and was affectionately known as 'Himself' in the community. In 1920, Cadell introduced Peploe to the island and he too returned for regular visits thereafter.
In contrast to his studio-based practice in Edinbugh, whilst on Iona Cadell favoured working outdoors. St Columba's Bay, Iona encapsulates his joyful response to the beauty of his natural surroundings. Legend has it that it was to here, the most southern bay on the island, that St Columba arrived from Ireland in 563AD to establish Christianity in Scotland. It provides views to the Black Island, Islay and Jura. In the present work, Cadell captures the very edge of the machair, before an expanse of sand is intruded upon by weathered outcrops of rock. The movement and varying colours of the sea as it flows in the bay and beyond, is depicted underneath a cloud-scudded sky; the whole is lit by glorious sunshine.
Cadell's Iona works proved popular and sold well, not least in the Society of Eight exhibitions. Examples are held in numerous public collections, including those of the National Galleries of Scotland, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museum, the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow and The McManus: Dundee's Art Gallery & Museum.
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