Study day: Modern Scottish Women: Gallery of Modern Art 2: Edinburgh


Woman with Bird, Hannah Frank, cast 1955


Gallery of Modern Art 2: Edinburgh: 22/11/15


  • To gain a personal perspective on a number of Scottish women artists
  • To reflect on the contribution which these artist made to the contemporary art world
  • To network with other OCA students


The exhibition spanned the period from 1885to 1965 and brought together the work of 45 Scottish women artists, notably : Bessie Macnicol, Anne Redpath and Joan Eardley, and others such as Dorothy Johnstone, Meredith Williams, Cecile Walton, Margaret Watkins and Phylis Mary Bone.

Much of the group discussion centered on the historical context in which the artists had worked and trained, often having limited access to formal art education. Some of the artists would also have been subject to the Marriage Ban, which required the resignation of women from full time teaching positions following marriage.

In Scotland,  women artists were also subject to constraints in their access to the nude figure, particularly to access to the male nude. This led to many women artists of the time going to Paris or London where such access was more open.

As might be expected, many of the works focus see on still life subjects or portraiture but ther were some suprprising pieces, for example the painted plaster model for the design of the  Paisley War Memorial by Gertrude Meredith Williams, The Spirit of the Crusadors, 1922.  The artist worked with sketches made by her husband while serving in the First World War to construct the piece which depicts a figure on horseback, bearing a standard, and surrounded by 4 soldiers, one at each corner. The work really captures the drudgery of the foot soldiers as they walk alongside the horse. It is easy to Imagine  the mud and toil of the battlefield when you look at the sculpture, even in such a small scale work.

I was very struck by the quality of the work on show, and particularly loved the painting, Mother and Child, 1920s, by Norah Neilson Gray. http://www.National galleries.Org

The painting places the mother and her child in the centre of the composition, facing each other, with the figures rendered in grey tones, placed on a background of yellows. The use of a limited palette gives a very tranquil feel to the work and helps to focus attention on the key figures. The skin of the subjects appears almost porcelain- like when viewed from a distance. The artist has managed to capture the intimacy of the relationship of mother and child very successfully. For me, the work mirrored the composition of some religious works of the Madonna and Child.

The portrait of Anne Finlay by  Dorothy Johnstone is the featured painting of the exhibition. The painting is striking, placing the main subject in the centre of the picture plane, her gaze directed straight at the viewer. The background is divided into 3 sections using a neutral palette of blacks and grays, contrasting strongly with the vibrant reds, greens and white of the figure. This helps focus attention on the main subject.


Shere Khan: The tiger,1934, Bronze. Mary Phylis Bone 1894-72
Shere Khan: The tiger,1934, Bronze. Mary Phylis Bone 1894-72

The  bronze sculpture of the tiger Shere Khan by Mary Phylis Bone very successfully recreats the pose of a tiger stalking his prey, capturing the pent- up energy of the animal perfectly,  his head lowered and every movement carefully measured to hide from his intended victim.

I sketched the bronze from different angles on one sheet of the sketchbook looking at the potential of this subject from the perspective of the printmaker. The movement within the pose suggested it would work for the masked monoprint project.


Felt pen drawing of Shere Khan: the tiger by Mary Phylis Bone
Felt pen drawing of Shere Khan: the tiger by Mary Phylis Bone

I was delighted to come across a small sculpture by the artist Hannah Frank, whom I met  personally at a small exhibition held in Glasgow . Miss Frank was in her 100th year at the time








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