2015 —
No Foreign Land:
Landscapes from The Fleming Collection
Scottish Art News, Issue 22︎

‘There is no foreign land. It is the traveller only who is foreign’ – Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94) The Silverado Squatters (Chatto and Windus, 1883)

The Fleming Collection began as a corporate collection of paintings intended to hang on the walls of a bank’s offices (Robert Fleming & Co). It had one simple proviso: the work must be by Scottish artists or of Scottish scenes by any artist. As it stands today, the collection is dominated by depictions of land and sea – landscapes comprise 60 per cent of the paintings acquired. Yet, many of these paintings are not of native terrain, but of other places: ‘foreign land’.

A work in the collection by William Crozier (1897–1930), an unusual double-sided painting of The Slopes of Fiesole, Tuscany (reverse: Edinburgh from Castle Street, 1930), perhaps best exemplifies this: on one side, a scene from a balcony in Tuscany, while, on the reverse, a view towards Edinburgh Castle from Castle Street. As one looks out across the Mediterranean land and sky, the other looks inward, towards the heart of Edinburgh, the eye drawn along and up the curved street.

The earliest landscape in the collection is an Italian scene by Jacob More (c.1740–93), who visited Italy and never left. Many Scottish artists, including Alexander Nasmyth (1758–1840), born nearly two decades later, made similar journeys there. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the Glasgow Boys, a loose group of artists who were heavily influenced by European art, looked to France, in particular the Barbizon School, but also to Holland and the Hague School. The collection has a number of works painted outside of Scotland by the Glasgow Boys. Early Autumn, Grez by Alexander Ignatius Roche (1861–1921) was painted in the French village of Grez-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau. Roche, along with John Lavery (1856–1941) and Alexander Kennedy (1847–1928) made their base there from 1883, joining an international community of artists and writers including Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94), who first visited in 1875, returning thereafter over three successive summers.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Scottish artists continued to be drawn to the landscapes of the south. As they examined international styles, their work was still often engaged with subjects strongly linked to Scotland, such as the land and sea. Journeys abroad made a great impression on the Scottish Colourists, and they brought these experiences and influences back with them to Scotland. Samuel John Peploe (1871–1935) first went to France in 1891, and, from around 1903, he made annual painting trips there, often with fellow Scottish Colourists. He settled in a Paris studio between 1910 an 1912, and, although he subsequently returned to Scotland, he continued to regularly visit France to paint, in particular the southern coast at Cassis until about 1930.

Travel further afield is represented in Feluccas on the Nile (c.1885) by Joseph Farquharson (1846–1935). This small oil sketch (probably painted from nature) is in marked contrast to his well-known snow scenes of the north-east of Scotland. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, he made a tour of Egypt, which had experienced a growth of mass tourism on the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.

An international outlook among Scottish artist has prevailed throughout the centuries and is a striking and recurring feature of the landscapes within the Fleming Collection. Given the ubiquity of landscapes within Scottish art, the works in No Foreign Land challenge typically romantic associations – Scottish landscape being often synonymous with distant mountains, deep lochs, and vast skies. Instead, a more complex ‘picture’ of the geographic context of Scottish artists’ work is presented.

Katie Baker and Briony Anderson are curators of No Foreign Land: Landscapes from the Fleming Collection, 29 October 2014–14 February 2015.

Text copyright, Scottish Art News 2015.