The Two Roberts: Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde
Intriguing retrospective of two charismatic artists who died young
Reading the literature which accompanies this intriguing retrospective on the work of Ayrshiremen Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde – who were students together at Glasgow School of Art in the early 1930s, lovers from then on, hugely popular contemporaries of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud during the 1940s, and tempestuous alcoholics who died young, and with their careers having declined, a few years apart in the 1960s – we might be struck by the sense that they’re among the few artists whose personal lives are as deserving of attention as their work.
This first major retrospective on the pair is, typically for the National Galleries, well-resourced and curated to the point that the narrative of their working life is drawn out alongside numerous vivid examples of the work. The opening room shows us the early days of their nascent career together, with MacBryde’s talent for capturing the human form expressed in pencil male nudes from GSA, while Colquhoun’s work includes oil portraits and landscapes, including a survey of figures in a London air raid shelter, and Unmade Bed, a precursor to Emin.
Their 1940s heyday is recounted by a roomful of oils, most of them of Colquhoun’s distinctive portraiture, a highly stylised echo of cubism and of Picasso in particular, which nevertheless saw his figures develop a sense of their own humanity; MacBryde would also work in a remarkably similar style, yet where he worked in still life the vividness of the colours would also resonate. Their costume design on the 1951 ballet Donald of the Burthens and Colquhoun’s on King Lear for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford would bring their unique worldview to life, while an essential selection of later works find deserved pride of place, uncelebrated at the time as their lives and careers sadly crumbled.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art One, Edinburgh, until Sun 24 May