Highlights from The Fife Arms Collection
The chimney-piece was purchased by Sir John Gilmour, 1st Baronet DL (1845-1920) of Montrave House, Leven, Fife. By family tradition, it was thought to have been carved in Newcastle or Northumberland. It was later attributed to Gerrard Robinson after the appearance of a photograph of it in The Sunday Post newspaper on 22nd January 1995. This monumental chimney-piece depicts various scenes from the works of Robert Burns. The fire-surround has 60% life-size statues of Robert Burns and Highland Mary flanking the opening surmounted by ‘The Ode to Toothache’ and ‘A Man’s a man for a’ that’, a skit. To the frieze is a central scene of ‘The Jolly Beggars’, the ‘Pygmy Scraper’ is recognisable with a fiddle. The overmantel has a scene of ‘The Twa Dugs’, with Luath the Collie and Caesar the Newfoundland surmounted by the central large panel depicting ‘Halloween’, elaborately carved with many activities including the boys dookin’ for apples. To one side is ‘Death and Dr. Hornbrook’, with Alloway’s Old Haunted Kirk behind and to the other ‘John Anderson My Jo John’. These are surmounted by figures of Soutar Johnnie and Tam O‘Shanter leaning out of windows. The cornice is carved with five devils, with the Piper from Tam O‘Shanter to either side.
Pablo Picasso was a prolific and tireless innovator of art forms, he contributed significantly to a number of artistic movements - Cubism, Surrealism, Neoclassicism, and Expressionism. ‘Mousquetaire assis’ (23 April 1967) was painted in the last decade of his life, when Picasso was able to travel only locally, and with his vaunted sexual powers on the wane. Picasso transformed himself into the brave, adventurous and virile musketeer, clad in ornate costumes, ready for daring escapades, romantic exploits and heroic deeds. This painting presents the quintessential figure of the musketeer. With dark, wavy hair, an elegant moustache and a dashing, ornate, vivid blue uniform. There are varying accounts of why Picasso chose the musketeer, when Pierre Daix, Picasso’s biographer, asked why the mousquetaires made such a sudden appearance in the artist’s work, Picasso replied: ‘It’s all the fault of your old pal Shakespeare’. However, Picasso was well acquainted with Alexandre Dumas ‘The Three Musketeers’, which indeed may have been the source for his swashbuckling characters. They are chivalric, they speak of adventure, they hail from the past yet have a distinctive breath of modernity about them.
HM Queen Victoria
HM Queen Victoria was a proficient and studious amateur artist, beginning drawing lessons from the age of eight. She initially copied drawings, as instructed by her tutor, but she soon started to sketch not only the various members of the Household at Kensington Palace and visiting relations, but the scenery and locations that she observed on annual holidays away from London. What had begun as a childhood amusement became a source of lifelong pleasure which she was later able to share with Prince Albert, who also took pleasure in drawing. Sketching became a favourite occupation, particularly on the royal couple’s summer visits to the Highlands of Scotland. Deer stalking was a favourite pastime while staying at Balmoral. H.R.H Queen Victoria would often sketch Prince Albert’s prizes, and later John Brown’s, once they had been brought back to Balmoral. Here, a stag taken by John Brown, is shown frontally in delicate pencil and watercolour, inscribed in great detail: ‘Stag/ shot by J. Brown./ Weighed 14s-12lbs In Pess Lak na ghon/ Length of antlers 35.1⁄4 inches, width of antlers 34 inches/ Octr 6th 1874/ V.R.’
Mark Bradford is an Los Angeles based artist. Apollo/Still Shining, made in 2015, was a collaboration with the piano maker Steinway & Sons and the composer Robert Glasper. Bradford used bleach and translucent squares of paper, used to wrap hair when getting a permanent curl treatment on the surface of the piano. Burning and bleaching the papers he collaged them onto the surface to give the piano a flaming appearance. Bradford explained, ‘My use of paper and bleach in the work originates from my time working as a hairdresser at my mother’s salon in Leimert Park, Los Angeles [...] Here, I am interested in the pattern of flux created by this bleaching effect. Grammy award-winning pianist Robert Glasper is known for synthesizing the genres of jazz, R&B and hip-hop. Glasper has produced award-winning albums by Jay-Z, Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu and Meshell Ndegeocello. ‘Still Shining’ is composed of movements from the light ‘Tranquillity’, to dissonance of ‘Unrest-Violence-Rescue’ and finally the optimism of ‘Rebirth’. Echoing the narrative arc of life.
Lucian Freud, grandson of Sigmund Freud, moved to Britain in 1933 to escape the rise of Nazism, he went on to become one of the greatest painters of the human figure. Freud worked only from life, translating his direct perceptions the canvas, resulting in portraits that are honest, tender, and psychologically complex. ‘Child Portrait (Annie)’ (1962) is a portrait of his eldest daughter, with his first wife Kitty Garman. Annie has spoken specifically about this painting saying: ‘I simply love that painting. Great eyebrows, which unfortunately, I’ve lost; I was 14 then. I don’t remember sitting for it, but I know I’m looking at him. Because, you know, it was not quiet. There were moments when he’d ask me to be still, or perhaps not speak, when he was really, really concentrating on something, but we spoke absolutely all the time. I think he knew it would unsettle me if he was too quiet; but also we were just hugely close and had masses to talk about. He used to recite poems and read to me, a lot.
Louise Bourgeois was a French artist who emigrated to New York. ‘Spider’ (1994) is one of the first large scale works from Bourgeois’s well known series. The spider is both a predator and a protector, a sinister threat and an industrious repairer, providing both safety and entrapment. Bourgeois has explained, ‘The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was a tapestry woman. My mother was my best friend. She was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and useful as a Spider.’ The spider related to both her parents, who worked as weavers, running a business dedicated to restoring tapestries. However, the image of her mother was fraught with memories of her father‘s infidelity, which pained the then young Bourgeois. The spider‘s looming form evokes the emotional traumas and entanglements of Bourgeois‘s childhood that never left her consciousness.
Gerhard Richter is a German artist, known for a stylistically varied exploration of painting. In the early 1960s, Richter began to create photorealist copies of black-and-white photographs rendered in a range of greys, and innovated a blurred effect in which areas appear smeared or softened – paradoxically reproducing photographic effects in painting. In this way, his work posed questions about the nature of photography, identity, and the way images of the real world are perceived and understood. Richter has said ‘I blur things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant. I blur things so that they do not look artistic or craftsman-like but technological, smooth and perfect. I blur things to make all the parts a closer fit. Perhaps I also blur out the excess of unimportant information.’ ‘Adler’ (1972) addresses ideas of imperial power through the eagle, the powerful, all seeing bird of prey. ‘Adler’ is, however, more than a device; it is a picture, which in its austere rendition of a majestic, if menacing, subject acknowledges the abiding potency and influence of images.
Archibald Thorburn was arguably the finest bird painter which Britain has ever produced. He was the fifth son of Robert Thorburn, a leading miniature painter of the day. Thorburn received much of his early training from his father, whose insistence upon anatomical accuracy and careful attention to detail stood him in good stead. He was a favourite of H.R.H Queen Victoria, who commissioned him on three occasions to paint her. Thorburn began life as a sportsman, regularly finding himself as a guest at shooting parties, including those at Sandringham, both to shoot and paint. However, he ended his life as a conservationist, having hung up his gun for good in the early years of the century upon wounding a hare and hearing its pitiful squeals. Although he moved to Surrey, Thorburn never lost his love for his homeland (having been born in Lasswade near Edinburgh) and returned each year to the Highlands of Scotland to paint. Thorburn’s pictures, unlike many of the period, remain free from sentimentality; with a deft touch and great economy, he captured the rigours of life in the countryside, be it by mountain tarn or lowland stubble with extraordinary colour and detail.