An artists’ paradise
East Lothian Council Museums Service cares for over 250 framed works of art on paper of various mediums of oils, acrylics and watercolour.
The collection includes a number of works by local artists of note or showing East Lothian scenery. The varied landscape of East Lothian has long been a magnet for artistic inspiration, a process that reached full bloom in East Linton in the 1880s (with an honourable mention for Co’path just across the old county boundary).
At the head of the list must be the East Linton School. The forerunners, John Pettie, Charles Martin Hardie and Arthur Melville, were all born or grew up in East Linton and popularised the locality amongst their fraternity. Working around the same time, William Darling McKay of Gifford was a prominent exponent of painting en-plein air scenes of country folk and rural landscape. Hardie’s friend Robert Noble settled in East Linton during 1887 and over the next thirty years became a central figure on the local artistic scene. Thomas Bromley Blacklock produced East Lothian Illustrated with 34 drawings; William Ferguson camped in a caravan near Knowes Mill (for 17 years); William Miller Frazer visited Noble often; Robert Hope; James Whitelaw Hamilton; Joseph Farquharson; Andrew Douglas; the list goes on. No wonder it was said of the banks of the Tyne that one had to stroll with caution for fear of tripping over easels or painting kits.
They were preceded and succeeded by others of greater and lesser renown including Archibald Skirving (of Athelstaneford), Patrick Adam at North Berwick, Sir William Gillies of Haddington, John Houston (a Fifer, but famously fond of the Bass!) and John Bellany (of Port Seton).
Not all on this remarkable list are represented in the collection, but many are. The pictures are dispersed in Council buildings across East Lothian, stored in the museums store and displayed in the new exhibition space at the John Gray Centre which offers a rare opportunity to bring together a selection. The (first) theme we chose during winter 2012 was Living by The Sea – works linked by a common thread, the rich and varied East Lothian coastline and its associated activities.
Paintings from the museums collection can be seen at Art UK