Reading Pictures

An Exhibition in the Tower Foyer Gallery
in association with the Scottish Word & Image Group

5 - 22 May 2004


As part of SWIG's eleventh annual international conference, this exhibition presents a variety of text-based art from the University's collections. The works span nearly two centuries, but their literary connections often extend back much further.

Included are striking paintings inspired by writers such as Burns and Scott, as well as more contemporary works such as book covers by R B Kitaj and poem-prints by Ian Hamilton Finlay. A few of the works are reproduced below.

Wolf's Crag by The Rev John Thomson RSA

Nicoll Collection, DUNUC ARTS:152

John Thomson of Duddingston (1778-1840)
Wolf's Crag, c 1820s

Scottish art in the 19th century was dominated by literary influences, particularly the works of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. Thomson became a close friend of Scott's, and painted many views of places described in his novels. The subject of this picture is taken from The Bride of Lammermoor, and was based on Fast Castle in Berwickshire.

Although largely an amateur painter, Thomson's work proved an important inspiration to others. By painting recognisable locations while at the same time imbuing them with a powerful romantic atmosphere, Thomson was a seminal figure in the development of a distinctively Scottish style of landscape painting.

English painters also drew inspiration from Scottish literature, particularly Burns and Scott.

Cooper painted many historical and literary scenes like this, but was most in demand for sporting subjects.

As a child he had worked in a travelling circus, and developed a lifelong passion for painting horses.

Tam O'Shanter, by Abraham Cooper. RA.

Nicoll Collection, DUNUC ARTS:18

The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow by Noel Paton

Main Collection, DUNUC ARTS:103

Sir Joseph Noel Paton (1821-1901)
The Dowie Dens O' Yarrow, c 1860

Born in Dunfermline, Paton became fascinated by history, folklore and religion. His work is loaded with spiritual and allegorical significance, and many of his subjects were taken from literature. This example is based on a traditional folk ballad from the Scottish Borders, in which the heroine rejects nine noblemen in favour of a ploughboy. The nine men murder the boy, and she wraps her long golden hair around his body. One version of the song ends:

This fair maid being big with child
A fact which did cause sorrow,
She lay deid in her lover's airms,
Between that day and morrow.

Colin Brown (born 1962)
Peace rules the Day where Reason rules the Mind, 1986

This colourful painting takes its title from the second Persian Eclogue, written by the 18th century English poet, William Collins:

Thrice happy they, the wise contented poor,
From lust of wealth and dread of death secure.
They tempt no deserts and no griefs they find;
Peace rules the day, where reason rules the mind.

Born in Dundee, Brown graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College in 1986, taking a postgraduate course the following year. He has since exhibited internationally, particularly in Germany.

Peace Rules the Day by Colin Brown

Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection, DUNUC ARTS:712

Will Maclean (born 1941)
A Highland Woman, 1991

This print comes from A Night of Islands, a suite of ten etchings inspired by Gaelic prose and poetry. This example comes from a Sorley Maclean poem, and depicts the grave of a seaweed-gatherer on Skye:

And Thy gentle church has spoken
about the lost state of her miserable soul,
and the unremitting toil has lowered
her body to a black peace in a grave.

Highland Woman by Maclean

Alan Woods Bequest, AW37

Pastor of Oaks by Finlay

Alan Woods Bequest, AW83

Ian Hamilton Finlay (born 1925)
Pastor of Oaks, Shepherd of Stones, 1991

Many of Finlay's poem-prints can be described as idylls - short pictorial poems, often on a pastoral theme. Language, typeface and colour combine to create simple yet intriguing combinations.

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