Art review: Winter Flowers

Elizabeth Blackadder is celebrated for her exquisite flower paintings, and her Orchids and Bananas is a fine example
Elizabeth Blackadder is celebrated for her exquisite flower paintings, and her Orchids and Bananas is a fine example
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WINTER Flowers at the RSA owes at least part of its inspiration to The Beechgrove Garden on BBC2. Colin Greenslade, the exhibition’s organiser, describes how seeing the Edinburgh garden of certain RSA friends and supporters visited by the Beechgrove gardeners moved him to realise a long-held ambition to create a show of botanical art from the RSA collection.

Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh ****

David Michie's drawing, Tiger Lilies, stands out even in the exalted company of this exhibition

David Michie's drawing, Tiger Lilies, stands out even in the exalted company of this exhibition

The result is rich and varied. It stretches back over the decades to Winter Flowers, the dark, expressive lithograph by Anne Redpath which gives the show its name and which she made in the 1950s with the pioneering Edinburgh printers, the Harley Brothers. Also on show are several studies for this print. Elizabeth Blackadder is celebrated for her exquisite flower painting and of course she is here too. Victoria Crowe’s plant studies are equally beautiful, and in addition to several sheets of these she has here Winter Caveat, a lovely small painting of winter trees. Winter trees are also the subject of two beautiful prints of snowy woods and dark ponds reflecting the winter light by Frances Walker. Jennifer McRae has painted three flower studies in oil on linen so that the warp and weft of the cloth are part of the image. It makes the paintings beautiful as objects, like the flowers they represent.

The late David Michie was also a passionate painter of flowers. A drawing by him of three tiger lilies is a star even in this exalted company. Lilies are also the subject of a photo-intaglio print by master print-maker Alfons Bytautis. His After the Rain uses the same technique to great effect. Inspired by 17th century Dutch painting and the boom and bust of tulip mania at the time, Derrick Guild has made tulips his special study, focusing with scientific precision on the flower against a plain black ground. Elspeth Lamb turns a voluptuous rose into something austerely beautiful in black and white. Roses and Golden Hops by George Donald captures the abundance of a summer garden.

More surprising are two paintings of pansies in saturated watercolour by Graham Fagan. Fagan also offers a bronze tree and, though departing slightly from flowers towards fruit, a spectacular still-life of a pineapple and an orange cast in bronze, but painted in life-like colours. Michael Docherty reasonably supposes that the theme of flowers implies gardening. His French Winter Garden for Odette is an assemblage with a trowel and a basket. Mary Bourne has made exquisite images of flowers, leaves and thorny branches in polished slate. The delicacy of the result defies the fierceness of the method. She sand-blasts the stone. The result is that the flowers and grasses seem not to be drawn on the slate, but embedded in it like fossils and they have the same delicate precision. Adrian Wiszniewski has recently produced a series of woodblock prints using the Japanese technique of multiple blocks. Two examples here, called Crail-Scotland and of garden trees against the sea, both use the same blocks. There are small variations in design between them, but essentially they are the same except that one is in light colours, the other in dark. Maximum variety from minimum means, it is a tour de force. Hokusai would have approved.

DUNCAN MACMILLAN

Until 8 March