The Scotsman’s art critic Duncan Macmillan gives his verdict on Alex Salmond’s Christmas card

The First Minister's Christmas card for 2012
The First Minister's Christmas card for 2012
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LAST year Alasdair Gray did the honours with Bella Caledonia, a fine and suitably pensive personification of the nation.

The two previous years were not distinguished, but John Bellany, the First Minister’s choice in 2008, is an artist of real stature.

Elizabeth Blackadder is as distinguished, but she is also an especially good choice for this year as 2013 is to be the Year of Natural Scotland, as the First Minister said.

Part of the great appeal of Blackadder’s art is indeed her sensitivity to the natural world, especially to flowers.

She is in fact a skilled gardener and for the card she has painted a collection of Scottish flowers, some wild, some from the garden, arranged in the effortless way that only she can achieve, apparently casually across the page, but with such subtlety so that each has its own clear presence, yet they work together perfectly.

They are summer flowers, of course, not a Christmas image, perhaps, but then surely it’s nice to have something to brighten up the Winter Solstice.

Some may say the First Minister is playing safe, that he should, for instance, have chosen a young artist, but he has to try to be inclusive. That’s not easy in matters of art and Elizabeth Blackadder’s appeal is universal.

She is of course a Dame and Queen’s Limner for Scotland, or in modern language, the Queen’s painter.

On the face of it, that is about as establishment as you can be, but her work is also very popular.

Her achievement is a most elusive one for a modern artist. She has real standing as a painter, but, without ever compromising her art, she has achieved genuine popularity at the same time.

The bookshop at the Royal Academy in London has a whole section devoted to her and to all the commercial spin-offs from her work, but she has never for a moment deviated from her own high standards.

There is of course also much more to her art than the flowers that she paints so well and last year a major exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery demonstrated its range and diversity.

The exhibition was to mark her 80th birthday, so the First Minister is paying her an appropriate compliment. She has characteristically returned the compliment with a lovely and characteristic picture.