Sir Herbert James Gunn (1893 - 1964):
Interior Scene, Memories of James Pryde, circa 1915-16
Framed (ref: 3658)
Oil on board, 18 1/2 x 14 1/2 in. (46.5 x 36.5 cm)
Provenance: gifted to the husband of the previous owner by his mother on 5th July 1946, thence by descent.
Exhibited: THE EDWARDIANS, THE GOLDEN YEARS BEFORE THE WAR, 7 DECEMBER 2011 - 7 JANUARY 2012, The Fine Art Soceity; The Great War As Recorded through the Fine and Popular Arts, Morley Gallery, September-October 2014.
Literature:THE EDWARDIANS, THE GOLDEN YEARS BEFORE THE WAR, 7 DECEMBER 2011 - 7 JANUARY 2012,Professor Kenneth McConkey. The Great War As Recorded through the Fine and Popular Arts, Morley Gallery, 2014. Edited by Sacha Llewellyn, p 144
This study, for a larger painting of the same title, (private collection), appears to have been inspired by Nicholson's still life of James Pryde's Hat, c. 1898
(image courtesy of Peter Nahum).
Gunn and Pryde shared a studio in London and there is a portrait of Pryde in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Portrait of James Pryde (1866-1941) c.1931 (oil on canvas), Gunn, Sir Herbert James (1893-1964) / © City of Edinburgh Museums and Art Galleries, Scotland
Piling up studio impedimenta into a large, jumbled still-life provided an instant test-piece for the nineteenth century painter which Mabel Pryde's Kit with Harlequin Clothes [no.10], in essence revives. It was a genre that might typically include an exotic costume,a sword or piece armour, a lay figure or statuette, and maybe, a discarded hat.
The purpose of this 'chaos decoratif' was to demonstrate the painter's abilities to prospective clients. It was a kind of badge or shop-sign.
This old convention was adopted in the present instance by the precocious young Herbert James Gunn who, at the age of sixteen began his training at Glasgow School of Art. After moving to Edinburgh College of Art, Gunn went to Paris in the winter of 1911-12, to enrol in the atelier Julian. Still only nineteen, he began to send back small, suave sketches of Parisian streets and parks to his family in Glasgow. These reveal a painter who could pluck the most unusual compositions from the seemingly ordinary - his eye for placing and interval having more in common with Eugene Atget and the young Cartier-Bresson than with the tyros of the Salon d'Automne. During the next two years, in journeys to Southern Spain and North Africa, it seems almost as if Gunn was visiting the well-springs of comtemporary painting, quickly acquiring the skill and experience of a much older artist.
Along the way the present calling card was painted. A tonal exercise, its narrative conceit is that of a painter who has been working on a grisaille, reminiscent of Tiepolo's commedia series. He has laid his tools - palette, brushes and maulstick - on an pedestal table.
We are grateful to Chloe Gunn, Philip Beck and Professor Kenneth McConkey.