An imaginary Scottish Holiday
This little watercolour (7 x 6 inches) transports us to Scotland. It takes us right to the heart of an artist colony at the height of the arts and crafts movement – to Kirkcudbright (pronounced kur-coo-bree) at the mouth of the River Dee. As I am not straying far from my home this summer, I can take a virtual summer trip to the North, to find out a bit more about the artist behind it and one other small artwork that came into my hands.
As with many of the pictures I find, we are given a glimpse of a story, through a scrap of provenance, but let’s start at the beginning of the journey. The watercolour is of Kirkcudbright, and is by the artist Ernest Archibald Taylor (1874-1951) – E A to his friends. E A trained at the Glasgow School of Art, joining Wylie and Lockhead as a trainee designer in 1893 and lectured at the Glasgow School of Art in furniture design 1903-1905.
In 1897 he met the artist and illustrator Jessie M King, who was his next door neighbour in Glasgow. They were married in 1908 and moved to Paris in 1911. Taylor had a job in Paris at a new school of art, run by the Canadian artist (Ernest) Percyval Tudor-Hart (1873-1954). Jessie was busy working on a series of book illustrations. She was an influential illustrator and designer, who also taught at the Glasgow School of art, and was known as one of the ‘Glasgow Girls’.
After a little time, Jessie and E A set up their own school in Montmartre, the ‘Sheiling Atelier’, as well as a summer school on Arran. Just before they were married, Jessie purchased a house in Kirkcudbright, which she named The Greengate. At the outbreak of WW1, E A and Jessie moved to Kirkcudbright and Greengate Close, to join the already established community of artists living there that centred around the ‘Glasgow Boy’ E A Hornel.
E A painted watercolours of the local area and supported the artists of Kirkcudbright. The couple lived there for the rest of their lives. You can read a lovely blog post about an archive of their photographs by Sarah Hepworth on the University of Glasgow Library website. You can get a sense of the characters of Greengate from this archive of photos.
On the backing board that the watercolour was taped to was a little inscription. It doesn’t say who the writer/owner was, but it does say that it was a gift from Cecile (Johnson) McLachlan (given Christmas 1986). It also says that is was ‘Given to her [Cecile’s] father by E. A. T.’ So, E A Taylor and this Cecile knew each other. I found an obituary for Cecile in the Scottish Herald, 23rd October 2009.
It describes her as artist, teacher and the original inspiration for the St Trinians stories! Cecile, born in Edinburgh, attended a progressive school in the city – St Trinnean’s. This school focused on self rather than imposed discipline, and the fictional St Trinians school was based on this.
The article also states that Cecile Johnson was named after one of the Kirkcudbright artists, Cecile Walton. Cecile Johnson was evacuated to Kirkcudbright during the war, and to Greengate Close, where Jessie King and E A Taylor lived and worked.
Cecile’s family moved to Kirkcudbright permanently in 1940. The family became friends with Ronald Searle, who made sketches of Cecile and her sister. The sketches became the basis of the ‘St Trinians’ characters.
During WWII, Cecile worked at Bletchley Park, after which she studied at Edinburgh College of Art eventually becoming president of the Scottish Society for Women Artists as well as teaching. She was a progressive educator, and through this made many lifelong friends – one of which must have been the owner of our little collection of pictures and prints. As mentioned above, I acquired another artwork by E A Taylor – a small black and white etching print, also with a note, this time written onto the back of the print.
So, if you would like to own a tiny picture painted by a leading figure of the arts and crafts movement, or owned by the original ‘St. Trinian’ schoolgirl, then now is your chance! The watercolour and the etching are both framed and available in our online shop.
I hope you have enjoyed our visit to the Scottish shores. I am looking forward to visiting Scotland again soon. Last time I was in Glasgow I was on the hunt for a painting. I love how a piece of art can take you on an adventure, either real or imagined, and there is no way to tell where you may end up next time.
Until then, haste ye back!