Sir David Young Cameron (Glasgow 1865 - Perth 1945)

Firth of Lorne, November (Sound of Kerrera)

signed 'DY CAMERON' (lower right)
further signed and inscribed verso
oil on canvas
68 x 96cm (26¾ x 37¾ in)

Provenance: Sir Hugh Reid CBE LLD DL

The Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Art, 1925, no. 102, lent by Sir Hugh Reid CBE LLD DL

Sir David Young Cameron’s view of the Firth of Lorne from the island of Kerrera is painted austerely, providing a striking contrast to the romantically charged Highland scenery of earlier painters. Emphasising the essential outline and structure of the firth, it is the richness of depth and the soft lights in colour and in darkness that allows for such an austere subject to become so interestingly and aesthetically pleasing.

This austerity can also be seen in other works by Sir David Young Cameron, such as Pentland Firth (Private Collection). As with Firth of Lorne, November (Sound of Kerrera), there is a simplicity to the painting. There is no dominating topographical feature, but instead, simplicity of form and the role of colour and light become the dominant feature of the painting.

Both pictures also include some human elements, such as the small farmhouse or two boats in Firth of Lorne, November (Sound of Kerrera), or the lone boat in Pentland Firth. However, these are dwarfed and made to seem irrelevant, which corresponds with Cameron’s aesthetic approach, where colour and form are dominant. Therefore, it seems possible that through these images, Sir David Young Cameron is communicating the importance and significance of landscape, while at the same time commenting on the relative insignificance between man and nature.

Having studied at Glasgow School of Art, Cameron had been introduced to the Glasgow Boys, with whom he first associated himself. It was they who brought a form of impressionism to Scotland in the 1880s and their influence is evident in Firth of Lorne, November (Sound of Kerrera). The movement placed emphasis on colour and line and this fundamental precept goes to the very heart of Cameron’s picture, which relies on the line of the firth and its many colours and shadows to enrich the picture, which is otherwise lacking in a focal point.

The tonal contrasts in Cameron’s work stems back to the early parts of his career, when he took up etching, having been encouraged to take up the medium by George Stevenson in 1887, and soon became a leader in the Scottish etching revival. From 1887 to 1892 he was a member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers, publishing sets of prints of views of the Clyde and of London and a number of continental sets: North Holland, North Italy, Paris and Belgium. The etchings moved from a picturesque, illustrative approach in the early works to a highly symbolic use of central shadow or emanating light, which can be seen in works like Tantallon. This use of light and shadow was to be influential on his paintings, such as Firth of Lorne, November (Sound of Kerrera).

During World War I, Cameron was commissioned by the Canadian Government to contribute to its War Record paintings and became the official war artist to Canada. Cameron held many titles and honours, including election as a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1918 and of the Royal Academy in 1920. In later life he supervised the murals for St Stephen’s Hall, Palace of Westminster, London, and was closely involved in the development of the British School at Rome. He was knighted in 1924 and appointed King’s Painter and Limner in Scotland in 1933.