Making and Meaning: The Scottish Colourists in The Hunterian

Project Outline

The Technical Art History Group and The Hunterian have initiated a pilot research project on the little-studied techniques, materials and studio practice of three Scottish Colourists: John Duncan Fergusson (1874–1961), Samuel John Peploe (1831–1935) and Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883–1937). This study will add substantially to the scant information currently existing on the Colourists’s working practices and on that of early 20th Scottish artists in general.

Contributors to the project will achieve this by combining technical and art historical research with scientific analysis and the study of historical sources (textual and visual). Five paintings from the Hunterian collection have so far been examined, all dating from between 1909 and 1926. Following a detailed preliminary analysis of each work, paint samples taken are now being analysed using optical microscopy, fluorescent staining, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) in combination with energy-dispersive x-ray microanalysis (EDX), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and Raman microscopy. Some IR photography and ultraviolet fluorescence photography was also carried out on specific works.

The first reports planned focus on Fergusson’s Le Voile Persan (1909) and Peploe’s Tulips and Cups (1912). Initial findings show that these two painters used very different materials in their preparatory layers reflecting the exploratory nature of their painting styles at this time.

Significantly expanding our body of knowledge, the project will firstly illuminate the working methods of the Colourists and their Scottish contemporaries. It will also help to establish any techniques they may have shared with or taken from their contemporaries, particularly in light of their known association with the continental avant-garde through their training and working in France, and their references to French Impressionists, Van Gogh and the Fauves. Findings from the research should also lead to a deeper understanding of early 20th century painting techniques and their development within the UK and Europe.

TAHG Participants

Mark Richter and Margaret Smith



This project is in collaboration with The Hunterian, where our project partner for this study is Anne Dulau Beveridge, curator at The Hunterian.