City Art Centre Edinburgh’s Bright Shadows – Scottish Art in the 1920s and City Art Centre at 40

Cecile Walton at Crianlarich by Eric Robertson
Eric Robertson | Cecile Walton at Crianlarich 1920 (detail)

Bright Shadows - Scottish Art in the 1920s and City Art Centre at 40

Pre-booking essential

From: 12 Sep 2020

To: 6 Jun 2021

City Art Centre
2 Market Street

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Two exhibitions mark the re-opening of the City Art Centre, and both with an anniversary theme. One marks the 40th anniversary of the gallery and another looks back 100 years to the dawn of the 1920s, an interesting decade for art and culture. The focus is on Scottish artists for both exhibitions and several of them appear in both. Most are established artists but there’s perhaps one or two you’re seeing for the first time. In that case, take some time to read the texts accompanying the artworks.

Although entry is free to the exhibitions, a time-slotted entry ticket for the gallery must be booked in advance online to keep a limit on numbers. Once inside there is no time limit to view the exhibitions – the first one is on the first floor and the other on the basement-level floor. You must wear a face-covering and follow a signed one-way route, with a little flexibility to allow for common-sense social distancing – some like to linger at each artwork, others move more quickly. There is hand sanitiser throughout, and toilets and shop are open. Staff are attentive, barriers are in place and constant cleaning takes place. The adjacent Mimi’s cafe is also open and taking walk-in customers.

City Art Centre at 40 exhibition
City Art Centre at 40: Highlights from the City’s Art Collection

City Art Centre at 40: Highlights from the City’s Art Collectionuntil 18th October

In the 40 years since the opening of the gallery in 1980 – the building was formerly a  fruit warehouse – the City Art Centre has forged a reputation as a versatile and much-loved civic gallery space. The artworks in City Art Centre at 40: Highlights from the City’s Art Collection are chosen from the permanent collection of over 5,000 pieces, accompanied by vignetted biographies of the artists and a little background into the works themselves. They’re shown in a combination of loose chronology as well as the best positioning for space and viewing. Painting, sculpture, art poetry, drawing and etching are all represented here, and mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Horse's Head sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi
Eduardo Paolozzi, ‘Horse’s Head’, bronze sculpture (1974)

It’s a great entry point for delving into a general history of Scottish art, and attempts to represent as diverse a group of artists and styles as possible within the City of Edinburgh art collection. This collection has been enhanced substantially in recent decades by donations and bequests of both artworks and funding, which also supports contemporary Scottish acquisitions. A new exhibition of recent acquisitions is planned for next year.

The Poppies, George Henry
George Henry, ‘The Poppies’, oil on canvas (1891)
The Blue Hat, John Fergusson
John Duncan Fergusson, ‘The Blue Hat, Closerie des Lilas’, oil on canvas (1909)

As well as a few popular artworks such as Poppies (1891) by George Henry and The Black Hat (1914) by Francis Cadell, you can find artworks from Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Alison Watt, John Byrne, Eduardo Paolozzi, Anne Redpath, Allan Ramsay, Victoria Crowe, Joan Eardley, Maud Sulter, Robert Colquhoun and John Bellany. Like a charming pick ’n’ mix there’s bound to be a few favourites in there. I was delighted to see some of mine again.


City Art Centre at 40 exhibition
City Art Centre at 40: Highlights from the City’s Art Collection exhibition


Bright Shadows: Scottish Art in the 1920s, until 6th June 2021

Bright Shadows at City Art Centre
Bright Shadows: Scottish Art in the 1920s at City Art Centre

Make your way from the first floor to the basement to enter a decade of contrasts, trauma and hope, loss and modernity all making for an interesting and realistic survey of cultural history in 1920s Scotland through its artists – both the new and the established. Once again this exhibition makes efforts to show the diversity of Scottish art and culture in this decade. 

In Bright Shadows: Scottish Art in the 1920s, topics range from fashion to industry, tradition to modernity and the forging of new art groups such as the 1922 Group, against the background of established groups like the Scottish Colourists, the national war memorial project and post-war continental travel. It was the decade that brought travel scholarships for students to Scottish art colleges. The highlight and showpiece of this exhibition gets its first public showing: it’s the recently-acquired painting Cecile Walton at Crianlarich (1920) by Eric Robertson on long-term loan from a private buyer – a mesmerising and modernist portrait. Here you will find paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures from realist right through to avant-garde styles. Although the star artwork could not be any more 1920s, the exhibition shows there was a lot more diversity to the jazz age than scandalous flappers and parties.

See also

With thanks to Julie Boyne for this review

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