Hugh Buchanan: The Esterhazy Archive Watercolours

Hugh Buchanan: The Esterhazy Archive Watercolours

British watercolour painter explores Hungarian nobility's archives

The title of this new show of 16 watercolours hung all too appropriately in Summerhall’s wood-panelled Dean’s Room, sounds as though it’s been lifted from a 1960s Cold War spy caper. But its depictions of books and documents all bundled up with brown paper and string are even more intriguing. The Esterhazy family archive is stored in Forchtenstein, south of Vienna, in 25 vaulted rooms within the basement of an ancient fortress. Buchanan’s excavation not only captures the meticulous intricacy of the endeavour, but seems to also tap into that very in-vogue notion of archiving as art.

Yet, by observing it at first remove, as Buchanan does here, there’s a gimlet-eyed objectivity to his studies as much as there is warmth. While there are hints of Beuysian-styled detritus on show acknowledged in the title of one of the larger works hung on the walls beside Summerhall’s staircase, framing the archives in impressionistic paintings like this makes them less austere and self-consciously mysterious. The light and shade in each painting bathes the bundles in a romantic glow that gives each package a mythological air to savour.

Summerhall, Edinburgh, until Sun 28 Jul

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