Last chance to see: Scottish Colourist Leslie Hunter at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh

Jenni Davidson | 09 October 2012

A painting of boats on a lake
© Edinburgh Museums and Galleries

Exhibition: Leslie Hunter – a Life in Colour, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until October 14 2012

"You are a queer people. Here is one of your best artists and nobody knows anything about him," said the French painter André Dunoyer de Segonzac of Scottish Colourist Leslie Hunter.

One reason Hunter may be less well known than his Scottish Colourist peers, JD Fergusson, Samuel Peploe and Francis Cadell, is that he took some time to settle on a personal style.

Throughout his life, Hunter continually changed and developed his art as he experimented with colour and incorporated influences from other artists, including the Dutch Masters and the French Post-Impressionists and Fauvists, particularly Henri Matisse.

Leslie Hunter’s family emigrated from Scotland to California when he was 13-years-old and he worked as a book and magazine illustrator in the Bohemian atmosphere of San Francisco at the beginning of the twentieth century.

His first solo exhibition was to have taken place in 1906 but for some bad luck; all his artwork was destroyed in a fire following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Some rare early work has survived from his California days though, and the exhibition includes simple monochrome ink and wash pictures of San Francisco’s Chinatown and a chalk drawing of Fisherman’s Wharf. Although primarily known as a landscape and still life painter, these show he was also a great observer of people.

Distraught by the loss of his work, Hunter moved back to Scotland and there he began to focus on still life.

Much of Hunter’s still life painting up to and during the First World War is dark and sombre with obvious influence from Dutch painting, but throughout the war period he studied the work of contemporary French painters such as Cézanne, Van Gogh and Matisse, and became committed to learning the from other artists’ techniques.

Trips to France and some time spent on his cousin’s farm doing war work helped to lighten his palette and he began to paint in something that was recognisable as his Scottish Colourist style. He began to use heavier, more textured brush strokes, brighter colours and paint in a more impressionistic style.

Between 1927 and 1929 he spent time in Provence which resulted in a fine series of paintings in vibrant Mediterranean colours - bright yellows, terracottas, greens and aquamarines that reflect the bright sunshine and lush landscape of the area.

These landscapes, as well as his still lifes from the 1920s and early 1930s, and the paintings of Fife fishing villages and around Loch Lomond, which are all on show in the exhibition, mark the zenith of Hunter’s experimentation with colour.

This is the first major retrospective of Hunter’s work for over 50 years and it is good to see one of Scotland’s most underrated artists getting the attention he deserves.
  • Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm. Entry £5 (concessions and family tickets available).
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