The term ‘Scottish Colourists’ refers to four painters, S. J. Peploe (1871—1935), J. D. Fergusson (1874—1961), G. L. Hunter (1877—1931) and F. C. B. Cadell (1871—1935).
This collective designation, however, was not coined until the late 1940s, by which time three of the principle artists – all except Fergusson – were dead, and has only recently achieved widespread currency. The designation ‘Scottish Colourist’ is also misleading, suggesting an artistic unity of purpose and collectivism, which does not accurately describe the tenuous relationship between the artists or the heterogeneity of their collective output.
The term in other words tends to obscure the wide variety of stylistic influences and approaches developed and employed by the artists. Regardless of what the collective appellation may suggest, the four artists were not a particularly close-knit group, neither did they work collaboratively towards a common goal. During their lifetimes the artists only exhibited together three times, and each of them developed individual methods, characteristic styles and divergent approaches to a wide variety of subject matter.
The Scottish Colourists combined their training in France and the work of French Impressionists and Fauvists, such as Monet, Matisse and Cézanne, with the painting traditions of Scotland. A forerunner of this movement was William McTaggart (1835–1910), a Scottish landscape painter who was influenced by Post-Impressionism. He is regarded as one of the great interpreters of the Scottish landscape and is often labelled the "Scottish Impressionist". They absorbed and reworked the strong and vibrant colours of contemporary French painting into a distinctive Scottish idiom during the 1920s and 1930s.
Although their subject matter is often considered conservative compared to their French counterparts, since much of it consisted of island landscapes, Edinburgh interiors and fashionable models; their style was confident and vibrant.
Their interpreations of Scottish interiors with their palettes of soft whites, pinks, greys and lilacs evoked the cool northern light and contrasted vividly with both the brighter, more extravagant works that all of the four produced in France, both in Paris and on the Mediterranean, and their outdoor scenes and seascapes of Scotland. These Scottish interiors with their palettes of soft whites, pinks, greys and lilacs evoked the cool northern light and contrasted vividly with both the brighter, more extravagant works that all of the four produced in France, both in Paris and on the Mediterranean, and their outdoor scenes and seascapes of Scotland.
The Scottish Colourists were internationally known during their lifetimes but their work fell out of favour by World War II, until they were rediscovered in the 1980s and subsequently played an influential role on the development of Scottish art.
Their work is featured in the Aberdeen Art Gallery in Aberdeen, Scotland; the J. D. Fergusson Gallery in Perth, Scotland; the University of Stirling, Paisley Museum and Art Galleries and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. Some of Leslie Hunter's paintings can be seen in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. The Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery is said to house the largest collection of works by Peploe and McTaggart.