Cecile Walton's idyllic double portrait hints at the tangled lives of Scottish artists at the SNPG

By Culture24 Reporter | 11 May 2015

A beautiful double portrait that celebrates the talents and hints at the tangled lives of Scottish artists of the early 1900s has gone on display in Edinburgh

a painting of a man and woman reclining toghether in a garden
Cecile Walton, Eric Robertson (1887-1941), artist, with Mary Newbery (1890-1985) (1912). Scottish National Portrait Gallery© The family of the artist
As the Scottish National Portrait Gallery unveils newly acquired artworks, a double portrait has gone on show that hints at the tangled lives of Scottish artists in the first two decades of the 20th century.

At more than six feet long, Cecile Walton’s Eric Robertson, 1887-1941. Artist. With Mary Newbery, 1890 - 1985 is a languid and escapist representation of the artistic ferment in Scotland before the First World War.

The painting captures the two artists seated in a luxurious garden; Robertson reclining as Newbery sits with a flower crown on her lap, a hint from Walton of the symbolism of flowers that can often be seen in Newbery’s work.

Newbery was the daughter of Glasgow School of Art director Francis Newbery and Glasgow Girls artist Jessie Newbery. Like her parents, she attended Glasgow School of Art and later became a close friend of Cecile Walton.

It is also said she caught the eye of her fellow sitter Eric Macbeth Robertson, although two years later he married fellow Edinburgh art student Walton, herself the daughter of artist Helen Walton and Glasgow Boys artist Edward Arthur Walton. 

Walton and Robertson married in 1914. After he returned from ambulance service in the First World War, their bohemian lifestyle became the talk of Edinburgh.

With another painter, Dorothy Johnstone (the daughter of landscape artist George Whitton Johnstone) the couple formed a ménage à trois that was said to be "both artistic and physical", but which foundered in 1923 due to Eric's excessive drinking.

As their marriage faltered, Cecile moved in with Dorothy and so, it seems, did the painting, which remained in Walton’s family until it was recently acquired by the gallery. In 1924, Johnstone married the landscape painter David Macbeth Sutherland.

As well as offering an intriguing touchstone to the complicated world of family art dynasties and personal relationships of Scottish artists of the period, the portrait joins another much-loved Cecile Walton painting in the collection, Romance (1920).

A self-portrait painted shortly after the birth of her second son, Edward, it shows the artist coolly examining her younger son while, rather like Manet’s Olympia, she reclines semi-nude as a nurse attends her.

The new acquisition has been revealed as part of Collecting Now, an exhibition comprising nearly 50 paintings, drawings and photographs including works by Eve Arnold, Viviane Sassen and David Peat, all of which have recently entered the Gallery collection.

a photo of a semi nude woman holding a baby on her bed while a nurse washes her feet and young looks
Cecile Walton, Romance (With her children Edward and Gavril)© The Family of the Artist

  • Collecting Now is on until September 20 2015 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Admission Free. Telephone 0131 624 6200 for more information. Use the hashtag #NGSCollectingNow on Twitter.

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