RSW Launches its 142nd

Ian Cook, 'Fiesta Mexicana'
Ian Cook, 'Fiesta Mexicana'

The Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW) 142nd Annual Exhibition

Mon - Sat 10:00 - 17:00, Sun 12:00 - 17:00

From: 21 Jan 2023

To: 16 Feb 2023

The Mound
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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The RSW is unique because it brings together artists working in all kinds of styles and techniques. Sometimes watercolour is seen as something traditional, but you only have to watch this show to see how imaginative and expressive these artists are.  – Angus McEwan

Just opened at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, is the 142nd Annual Exhibition by the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour. Creatively selected, curated and displayed around the grand salons of the Upper Galleries is a total of 315 paintings by many distinguished RSW members – June Carey, George Donald, David Forster, Simon Lawrie, Marion Leven, Angus McEwan, Ruth Thomas and Christine Woodside, et al.  Artwork too by several new members, including Claire Arbuthnott, Jenny Matthews, Saul Robertson and Anne Skinner.

Whatever your preferred artistic interest and genre, here are cool portraits, dramatic land and seascapes, botanical studies and bold, geometric abstract designs. 

John Singer Sargent’s famous painting of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (painted 1892, and on display at the National Galleries of Scotland next door) was an immediate success which enhanced his reputation in Britain, while Lady Agnew became a celebrity in London high society. In homage to this enchanting, intimate portrait, Ann Oram has recreated the relaxed, confident expression, delicate, flowing folds of chiffon and silk, with uncanny likeness, mood and manner.   

Ann Oram, 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw'
Ann Oram, ‘Lady Agnew of Lochnaw’
John Singer Sargent, 'Lady Agnew of Lochnaw', oil on canvas
John Singer Sargent, ‘Lady Agnew of Lochnaw’, oil on canvas

Another Victorian (or Edwardian) lady, akin to an intrepid adventurer, is The Ornithologist by Ian Ritchie, featuring her binoculars and notebooks for bird watching. Her facial expression is so intense – quizzical eyebrows and piercing blue eyes. But the focus is on her bouffant hair adorned with feathers – or indeed it could be a bird’s nest!

Ian Ritchie, 'The Ornithologist'
Ian Ritchie, ‘The Ornithologist’

Angus McEwan (the new President of the RSW) is a multi-award winning artist for his meticulous studies of peeling paint, cracked surfaces and textures of old wooden doors, windows and buildings. Waiting Room is a finely crafted, photorealistic composition: the slim shaft of sunlight reflecting the window frame and dark shadows on the polished floor boards: a most detailed illustration to depict the panelled wall, vintage chair and stove, like an empty room in a deserted house lost in time. 

Angus McEwan, 'Waiting Room'
Angus McEwan, ‘Waiting Room’

John Kingsley also expresses a lingering sense of time and place in abstract form. Developed in Italy from the 13th century, a fresco is a mural using water-based paint on wet plaster which is allowed to dry on which to draw a picture. Another layer of plaster and paint is applied to complete the layered technique.  

In Fresco Fragment: Eros and Psyche, the barely visible surface of a pale pink painted ‘mural’ shows a faint, shadowy silhouette to denote the Greek myth. Psyche was a beautiful, graceful woman, whose devotion to Aphrodite’s son, Eros, the mischievous God of love, earned her immortality. 

John Kingsley, 'Fresco Fragment, Eros and Psyche'
John Kingsley, ‘Fresco Fragment, Eros and Psyche’

February is carnival month – a celebration of food and drink, parties, parades and masquerade balls from Mexico to New Orleans, Rio to Venice. Exploding with bright, buoyant colour, Fiesta Mexicana by Ian Cook evokes the joyous festival spirit through a haphazard jigsaw of faces, masks, music-making, samba rhythm and dance steps with exhilarating and exuberant energy.  

Ian Cook, 'Fiesta Mexicana'
Ian Cook, ‘Fiesta Mexicana’

The Scottish Colourist Francis Cadell first visited the Scottish island of Iona in 1912, later accompanied by Samuel Peploe on annual trips to paint the tranquil seascapes. This remains a timeless place of pilgrimage for artists to observe the broad sky, turquoise sea and golden beaches, as viewed in Summer on Iona by Claire Arbuthnott. With a loose, sketchy touch, a soft, shimmering luminosity enriches the scene.  

Clare Arbuthnott, 'Summer on Iona'
Clare Arbuthnott, ‘Summer on Iona’

Chris Bushe is renowned for his atmospheric seascapes of Hebridean islands, moving between an abstract, impressionistic style and cool, crisp realism. The contrast between the purity of sunlight on the sand and the looming storm cloud is delicately illustrated in Rain Clouds over Mull and Sunshine on Iona with a tangible sense of rain drops dripping from the grey-streaked sky.  

Chris Bushe, 'Rain clouds over Mull, Sunshine on Iona'
Chris Bushe, ‘Rain clouds over Mull and Sunshine on Iona’

A new member of the RSW, Pascale Rentsch is a Swiss artist living in East Lothian. She paints outdoors to capture a vision of nature amidst the elements, such as in ‘Windswept’ which places the viewer right on the seaweed shoreline. Almost like a video film, the moment when the waves crash on the rocks is ‘snapped’ with a spontaneous splash of surf; above a flock of birds fly over in migration, perhaps heading south for winter sunshine.  

Pascale Rentsch, 'Windswept'
Pascale Rentsch, ‘Windswept’

This is just an overview of a few highlights in this marvellous showcase of watercolour paintings by members of the RSW. A visit is highly recommended. 

A programme of talks and events accompanies the event and images can be viewed online:

With thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review.

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