A New Era: Scottish Modern Art 1900-1950 (4 stars)

A New Era: Scottish Modern Art 1900-1950

John Duncan Fergusson, Étude de Rhythme (1910) / credit: The Fergusson Gallery, Perth & Kinross Council

The untold story of Scottish Modernism

Following on from last year's Modern Scottish Women exhibition and this summer's True to Life, National Galleries of Scotland is continuing to uncover aspects of the country's artistic past, in this case the untold story of Scottish Modernism. Cubism, futurism, surrealism, vorticism: Scots, it turns out, were doing them all.

A New Era presents surprise after surprise, both lesser known works by well-known artists – such as J D Fergusson's cheeky semi-abstract 'Etude de Rhythm', or Stanley Cursiter's Edinburgh scenes painted in response to the Italian futurists – and artists one is seeing for the first time, it's clear Scots were rubbing shoulders with modernism from its earliest days. Duncan Grant, for example, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, painted 'The White Jug' in 1914 after meeting Picasso in Paris, but as a daring early work of abstraction; the jug was added four years later, making the painting into a still life.

Curator Alice Strang traces the movement chronologically through four rooms, from radical pre-war experiments to the 1950s abstracts of Alan Davie, William Gear and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. She has brought back some of the ladies from Modern Scottish Women: futurism by Agnes Miller Parker, surrealism by sisters Doris and Anna Zinkeisen and a charming little known work by Cecile Walton.

With no more than a couple of works on show by most of the artists, it is not always clear whether their engagement with modernism was a commitment or a brief dalliance. William Johstone was clearly commited: his dark, beautiful abstract 'A Point in Time' is one of the stars of the show, as was William Crosbie, who trained with Leger, and Jock Macdonald, less well known in this country as he emigrated to Canada.

Other works, such as James Cowie's strange, mesmerising 'Evening Star', are revealed in a fresh light when shown in this context. Whether the show reveals an complete untold story, or simply fragments of one, is not clear, but it leaves the viewer hungry to know more.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two), £10 (£8), until Sun 10 Jun 2018.

A New Era: Scottish Modern Art: 1900–1950

An alternative look at Scottish art from the first half of the 20th century, challenging the view of the dominance of the Scottish Colourists and featuring the most progressive works from some of Scotland's leading and lesser-known artists.

A New Era: Scottish Modern Art 1900-1950 – Curator’s Talk

Alice Strang, Senior Curator at the Gallery of Modern Art, gives an introduction to A New Era which tells an alternative story of the history of modern Scottish art, by examining the most advanced work made by leading and less-profile Scottish artists.