Thursday, 11 November 2010

Arthur Melville's watercolour landscapes

One of the joys of visiting Pioneering Painters: The Glasgow Boys 1880-1900 exhibition when it opened at the Royal Academy of Arts recently was encountering watercolour landscapes by Arthur Melville for the first time.  They are absolutely stunning!  If you are a watercolourist, it's worth going to the exhibition just to stand and stare and absorb what Melville does.

Below is one example - but there are others.

Brig o'Turk, 1893 by Arthur Melville
Watercolour, 60.8 x 86.4 cm

The Robertson Collection, Orkney
Photo The Robertson Collection, Orkney
It looks as if Bruce MacEvoy (Handprint) is also a fan as he's researched Melville and has some information about him on his Handprint site.
Melville's technique (as described by his friend Theodore Roussel) is worth describing: he began by soaking the paper in a bath of diluted chinese white until it was thoroughly impregnated with the color, then let the paper completely dry. He then rewetted the surface, and dropped in pure browns, reds and blues to build the shapes, painting with diffuse blobs of color rather than touches of the brush. Once the values and basic forms were blocked out in this way, Melville gradually intervened with more directed brushstrokes as the paper dried, helping to define forms and figures to produce the final somber, atmospheric effect.
I was so impressedwith Melville that I bought a book about him (Arthur Melville  by Iain Gale ) - in part prompted by yet another stunning landscape on the cover!  His watercolour paintings of Spain - whihc he visited every year from 1890 ubntil his death - and the Mediterranean are amazing.

In truth Melville was never a Glasgow boy proper.  He was older than most of them but did share a kindred spirit.  He'a also been called the Scottish Impressionist - but that's not quite right either.

Between 1890 and 1893 his work transformed.  Gale hypotheses that there was a connection between Melville and the Nabis (Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis became the best known of the group).  This seems to be on the basis that both seemed to have arrived at the same conclusion about how to paint at about the same time - using strong flat areas of colour combined with strong outlines and an element of pattern and decoration.  Melville uses a planar technique and blocks of colour in his watercolours.

Gale suggests that the landscapes he painted in 1893 at Brig o'Turk in the Trossachs should be seen as arrangements in pattern and harmony.  (Brig o'Turk is of course where Millais painted Ruskin's portrait and got to know his wife rather well!)

I'm guessing the reason I feel him appealing is that in reading about his approach in the Gale book,  I can find a lot of resonance with the way I tend to think about landscapes and to draw them.  However I'm nowhere as bold as he is - but it now makes me want to develop confidence in working more in this way since I find it so attractive.

Pioneering Painters: The Glasgow Boys 1880 – 1900 is an exhibition from Glasgow Museums in association with the Royal Academy of Arts.   It is on display in the Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy of Arts, London until 23 January 2011.


bvpainter said...

I was also knocked out by Melville's watercolours. I have seen some of them before at the Fleming Collection Gallery, Berkeley Street,W1, but these were even better.

Incidentally the Fleming gallery also has a Glasgow Boys exhibition on at the same time as the RA's one. I have not been to it yet but must try and find the time.

I thought the whole of the show at the RA was absolutely wonderful, a joy to behold.

vivien said...

no not impressionist - but really interesting and the technique with the Chinese White sounds interesting .......

I don't know so much about the Glasgow Boys - but saw a huge amouont of Scottish Colourists and the next generation a few years back that left a deep impression


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