Visual Arts in Ayrshire

The Maclaurin Art Collection  ~  Early Period Purchase

Robert MacBryde 1913 - 66

1. MacBryde

2. Twa Roberts
Robert MacBryde (left) and Robert Colquhoun (right).


Robert MacBryde 1913 - 66

1.   Girl Playing a Zither. Robert MacBryde.  Undated. Signed 'MacBryde'  510 x 415mm  Oil on Canvas.  Purchased from Mercury Gallery, Edinburgh, with a purchase grant from Local Museums Purchase Fund.

Provenance: Parkin Fine Art and Mayor Gallery, London. Exhibited Colony Room Club, London 1982, Mercury Gallery, Edinburgh 1983.

2.   The Two Roberts: Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, in their Bedford Gardens studio, 1949 Picture Post.

Robert MacBryde and Robert Colquhoun were inseparable in life.  Together they upheld the view that modern art needed to be cosmopolitan.

When they settled in London in 1941, they arrived convinced that, as Scottish artists, they had a contribution to make to European culture.   Wary of indifference on the part of the English, they initially sported tartan kilts, claimed they were Scottish Nationalists and adopted an effusively Gaelic stance.

But the Nationalist vein soon disappeared, as did the kilts, and the Roberts, who never returned to live in their native country, became professional Scots in England.

Few artists have imposed themselves on their surroundings as these two did.  Almost every memoir of Soho in the 1940s, its pubs and drinking clubs, mentions their glowering presence. Fearless and outspoken, they hated anything false, pretentious or sham. Such was their charisma that, for a short period, others in their circle felt that where the two Roberts were, there London was.

In considering this work for the Maclaurin Art Collection it was recognised that both artists had made a contribution to the development of modern art in Britain, despite their careers being pursued furth of Scotland.  Their unique, some might say distorted, Scottishness might not have been tolerated north of the border but it meshed with the shady life of Soho and the rumbustious nature of some cultural circles of that time.  It is interesting to read Wyndham Lewis's comment on his encounter with the 'bra' lads'.

This oil painting, Girl Playing a Zither, was found at the Mercury Gallery in Edinburgh during the 1983 Edinburgh Festival.  It was displayed in the same collection as the work by Robert Colquhoun.  It was natural that the two local boys would be recognised in the Maclaurin collection and we were fortunate to find this work that demonstrated a debt to the later works of George Bracque allied to the typical colour fields and style of the neo-romantic painters of the 1930's, such as, Paul Nash, John Craxton, Ivon Hitchens and Graham Sutherland.

The Scottish Gallery organised a retrospective exhibition of their work in 2010 and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art will present an exhibition in 2014 setting their work in the context of the modern movement.

This work was identified and championed by Mike Bailey.

[Text draws on The Last Bohemians: The Two Roberts Colquhoun and MacBryde. Roger Bristow. 2010. Sansom and Company, other sources in the public domain and personal recollections.]

Robert MacBryde was a painter of still life and figure subjects.  He was also a stage designer.

Born in Maybole in 1913, he was a pupil at Carrick Academy, leaving school early to work in a factory. In 1933 he went to Glasgow School of Art, gaining his diploma in 1937. By the time he entered the Art School he had met Robert Colquhoun, who was to become his close friend and associate. The 'Two Roberts' as they became known, studied in France and Italy with scholarships in 1937–9.

In 1941 they settled in London where they became part of the celebrated Soho set that included artists such as Francis Bacon, Keith Vaughan and John Craxton, and the poets Dylan Thomas and George Barker. They were destined to be together for 30 years and produced a body of work within the Neo-Romantic movement of the 1940s.  Colquhoun specialised in figure painting, MacBryde in still-life. He and Colquhoun shared a house in London with John Minton and (from 1943) Jankel Adler 1941–6. Hard drinking, volatile and uncompromising, their lives were as passionate and compelling as their art.  For a time being in the 'fifties they travelled in a horse caravan around the south of England painting as they went.

MacBryde's first one-man show at the Lefevre Gallery 1943.   Friends of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, they took the London art-world by storm in the 1940s, with sell-out exhibitions of their paintings, but by the 1960s their position as two of the country’s most celebrated artists had been eclipsed.

Influenced by Graham Sutherland and John Piper, MacBryde had become a well known painter of the Modernist school of art.  First known for his brightly coloured Cubist studies, MacBryde's later work evolved into a darker, Expressionist range of still lifes and landscapes. In an obituary in The Glasgow Herald, the writer asserts that Macbryde's paintings one remembers as more self consciously decorative than Colquhoun's best work, but they had in common, despite the influence of Adler and the English Romantic painters, a stubbornly Celtic quality.

In collaboration with Colquhoun, he created several set designs during and after the Second World War. These included sets for Gielgud's Macbeth and King Lear at Stratford and Massine's Scottish ballet Donald of the Burthens, produced by the Sadler's Wells Ballet at Covent Garden in 1951.

Colquhoun died penniless in 1962, aged just 47; MacBryde, now resident in Dublin, was knocked over by a car and died in 1966. 

Few artists have catapulted to celebrity or descended into obscurity so swiftly: their remarkable careers lasted scarcely twenty years.   Anthony Cronin, a friend of MacBryde and Colquhoun, describes them both with affection and respect in his memoir Dead as Doornails.

[Text draws on The Last Bohemians: The Two Roberts Colquhoun and MacBryde. Roger Bristow. 2010. Sansom and Company, the Glasgow Herald obituary and recollections of Fiona Green with other sources in the public domain and personal recollections.]


This page is based on recollections by Mike Bailey , and other published sources.   Mrs Mary E Maclaurin's Trust is a Registered Scottish Charity

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Maclaurin Art Collection ~ Updated March 5, 2016