Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell, RSA, RSW, (1883-1937)
Francis Campbell Boileau (Bunty) Cadell was born in 1883 in Edinburgh with natural artistic ability and a deep desire to express his love of life through his work.
Apart from the official tuition that he received in Paris at the Academie Julien between 1899 and 1902, the exposure to the powerful forces that were emerging in France at the time and during his subsequent return visits to Paris obviously had an effect on the young artist. He would have clearly seen the Fauve works of Matisse and Derain, for example. The influence of the Impressionists, which could be seen at the Durand Ruel's Gallery and at Salle Caillebotte, was particularly strong and some of Cadell's best early work emphasises the mark that these paintings made on him.
However, there is nothing in his work pre 1910, to give any indication of the explosion of colour that was to take place in some of his 1910 Venetian paintings. Not all the work that he produced during his visit was in the same vivid high key, indeed many of the works show little development in terms of tone and colour form the small oil panels and the watercolours executed in 1908. But those few oils that displayed the spontaneous use of bold, bright colour were sufficient to signal the arrival of a new and highly individual 'Colourist' talent. The Venice paintings were exhibited in Edinburgh in the autumn of 1910, just prior to Roger Fry's first Post Impressionist Exhibition at the Grafton Gallery in London.
While Peploe and Fergusson spent most of their time in the pre-war days in France, Cadell remained in Scotland, mainly in Edinburgh. Having led a fairly nomadic existence for the previous ten years there was clearly an attraction in having a permanent base from which to operate. Financial considerations were also important, as friends and patrons were largely from Edinburgh. The result was that Cadell had little, if any, direct contact with progressive ideas about art emanated from Europe generally, and Paris in particular, after about 1910. What contact he did have was mainly through his close friendship with Peploe.
Instead, he concentrated on the subject matter that was at hand. To understand how he found sufficient challenging material in the relative confines of Edinburgh during autumn and spring, and Iona in the summer, (he rarely painted in during the winter), one must understand his character, for the work and the person were inextricably linked.
Above all, Cadell was an optimist, who had no interest in the less savory elements of life. He saw beauty in many forms, and was devoted to using his extraordinary artistic versatility to convey that beauty to others.
Pre-war Edwardian Edinburgh provided a wealth of elegant subject matter for Cadell. Yet his work of this period seems more a development of his impressionist paintings of 1908 and 1909 than of his high keyed Venetian ones. The predominant colour is often a rich, creamy white, with occasional splashes of pastel green, blue and orange. To heighten the contrast and give the impression of space and light, Cadell would sometimes make the focal point of the painting a darker coloured object.
A regular summer visitor to Iona after 1912, his early landscapes of the island use the same range of colours as his pre-war interiors. It was not until after the war that Cadell painted on unprimed board to impart a chalky consistency and almost luminous quality to his work. Whenever he did this he inscribed a warning on the back of the painting 'Absorbent ground, NEVER varnish'. He was meticulous in giving a title to almost every painting but works were rarely dated after 1913.
The most dramatic change in the style of Cadell's work came after the end of the war. Perhaps in a reaction to the squalor and chaos of the trenches, his still life and interior works took on completely new form. Pure primary colours in a deliberate and well defined structure replaced the looser handling and spontaneity of the pre-war paintings. It is works of this period that confirm Cadell's greatest attributes - his remarkable versatility. Always working with an obvious interest in the quality of the paint, he seemed equally at home with any subject. Indeed, in his assessment of the relative strengths of Cadell, Peploe and Cadell certainly excelled in painting interiors in a manner which neither Peploe nor Cadell was the most versatile of the three. He painted landscapes, seascapes, figure subjects, cows, sheep, ships and boats with equal facility. One of the finest pictures of a horse race I have ever seen was a small oil painted by Cadell. To my mind it equaled for action, both of horses and jockeys, any thing ever painted by Degas"
Towards the end of his career the angularity of his paintings of the 1920's gave way to an equally colourful but more pattern orientated approach.
However, two common characteristics can be seen running through the best of Cadell's work, irrespective of when it was painted - elegance and optimism. As Stanley Curisiter commented:
His most valuable asset is an infective gaiety, a light-heartedness, combined with a daring and masterful use of colour - placed with swift a certainty of its effective display. In the immediate months prior to his death it would have been easy for Cadell to have become depressed. Surrounded by unsold paintings, and suffering from a horribly painful cancer, he was forced to enter hospital. His doctors wrote to his sister of his tremendous courage but, above all, his unconscionable humour.
Cadell's obituary in the Edinburgh Academy Chronicle referred to him as a great character, a gallant gentleman and a brilliant artist 'who, had he been spared in good health, would undoubtedly have become on of the R.S.A.'s most distinguished Presidents'. Although this was only conjecture, there is no doubt that Cadell's death at the relatively young age of fifty-four deprived the Scottish art world of one of its most charismatic and talented figures.
Tom Hewlett, Portland Gallery, London
From the introduction to the artist's biography, 'Cadell, A Scottish Colourist' 1988 published by Canongate