Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell was one of the four “Scottish Colourists”, a set of radical artists of their day who enlivened the Scottish art scene with the fresh vibrancy of French Fauvist colours. He is renowned for his stylish portrayals of Edinburgh New Town interiors, vibrantly coloured, daringly simplified still lifes and serene landscapes of the Scottish countryside and coast.
Cadell was born in Edinburgh and showed an artistic ability from an early age. Cadell was taught at the Royal Scottish Academy Life School in Edinburgh, but became frustrated with the traditional conservatism of the teaching he received, a feeling echoed by the other “Scottish Colourists”. At the age of sixteen, Cadell travelled to Paris to study at the prestigious Académie Julian, where he immersed himself in the French avant-garde art scene for the next eight years. His exposure to the French artists of the time was to have a profound and long-lasting effect on his art. The work of the early Fauvists, and in particular Matisse, proved to be his most lasting influence.
Between 1902 and 1905 Cadell split his time between Edinburgh and Paris whilst embarking on a professional career as an artist, exhibiting in Edinburgh and Glasgow. His early work reveals the influence of the Impressionists. In 1906 Cadell moved to Germany with his family and the following year enrolled at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich.
Cadell’s first one man show was held at Doig, Wilson and Wheatly in Edinburgh in 1908, following his return to Scotland. The following year Cadell moved into a studio on George Street in the centre of Edinburgh and became close friends with Samuel Peploe, a Scottish Post-Impressionist painter whose work would have a distinct influence on Cadell. As his popularity increased, Cadell began to receive noteworthy commissions. One of his most important patrons, Sir Patrick Ford, financed his first visit to Venice in 1909, which inspired a newly confident use of bright colour and a loosening of his technique.
In 1911, Cadell was inspired to arrange an annual exhibition in established venues in Edinburgh along with his Scottish contemporaries, including Peploe. These annual exhibitions, called The Society of Eight, encompassed artists from both Edinburgh and Glasgow in an attempt to bridge the artistic and political divide between the two Scottish cities. Cadell’s close friend Ronaldson, to whom the present work was gifted, also exhibited with The Society of Eight.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Cadell volunteered to fight but was pronounced unfit, largely due to many years of smoking a pipe. Instead he gave up his pipe and worked on a farm in Dumfries and Galloway until he passed the necessary medical tests and in 1915 he joined the 9th Battalion, The Royal Scots, and later was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. During his time in the army, before he was sent to the trenches on the French front, Cadell produced a vibrant series of drawings in ink and watercolour capturing all aspects of life in the army. Around fifty of these were exhibited at The Society of Eight.
Following the War, Cadell adopted a new intensity of colour and the use of thickly applied paint. An interest in the Art Deco movement and what was likely a response to the squalor of the trenches that he experienced whilst on service, resulted in tightly-cropped compositions, usually approached at an angle. His palette, although still light in tone, tended towards primary colours, and his brushwork lost its pre-war vigour. Cadell's canvases began to show a greater debt to the tenets of still life painting laid down by French Impressionist artist Paul Cezanne in his structured approach to the application of colour. Like Cezanne, Cadell spent much time experimenting with still life arrangements as they allowed him to mobilise form, line and colour in their purity, without the intrusion of a narrative content. The flat application of paint and the use of increasingly brilliant colour resulted in interiors, still lifes and figure studies which count amongst the most noteworthy paintings in British art of the period.
Every summer Cadell would stay on the Island of Iona, depicting the North End of the island in particular in all its myriad guises, according to the fleeting effects of light and atmosphere. Cadell had first visited Iona prior to the War in 1912 and the islands beauty deeply inspired him and feature prominently in his work from this point onwards. Many of these landscapes were painted over a wet white ground and this technique resulted in a luminosity and brilliance of colour, one of the most striking features of his work. Cadell and his good friend Peploe were prominent members of Iona’s artistic community during its hayday between the Wars. TJ Honeyman, biographer of the Scottish Colourists and the man who coined the term, considered Cadell's Iona paintings to be the archetypal works of the genre.
In his still lifes of the early to mid 1920s Cadell suppressed perspective and shadow, and rendered objects, such as roses and bowls, in blocks of barely modulated colour presented within a strictly limited framework. He developed a late style in which black remained dominant and was increasingly used to outline features, whilst his technique became less structured and his colours more sober. Cadell exhibited regularly from 1921 with the Glasgow-based art dealer Alexander Reid and his son A. J. McNeill Reid. It was during this period that Cadell held his first London exhibition in 1923, which he shared with two other Scottish Colourists Peploe and Hunter, the critics commented on the 'new solidity' of his painting. Cadell was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour in 1935 and was made an Academician of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1936, the year before he died, aged fifty-four.