Two paintings by William Crosbie…

Popping into The Beecroft Gallery this morning, I discovered two paintings by the artist William Crosbie (1915-1999) that absolutely fascinated me, each in their own right and also in comparison and contrast to each other.

The first is “Mother and Child” [1952]:

Crosbie, William; Mother and Child; The Reiff Collection;

Born in China to Scottish parents, the National Gallery of Scotland tells us, he studied in Glasgow in the early 1930s, then, in Paris later in the decade. One might suggest then that a number of influences from both places have combined in the creation of this fascinating and really quite mysterious work of art, which leads to a little “gallery” in the mind.

The layering and patterning of shapes through outline, colour and texture brings to mind Eileen Agar’s paintings, the ‘mother’ figure perhaps especially if we look at “Muse of Construction” [1939; c/o Christies], revealing the interaction of Cubism and Surrealism through the 1930s:

The Surrealist element certainly comes through in the unnamed figure floating above the child in Crosbie’s painting: is it an angel, or something more threatening and nightmarish, even the figure of death (note how the mother’s arm blocks it, holding it at bay)?

Both artists also share a powerful sense of colour. The Lyon & Turnbull Gallery notes that in 1939, William Crosbie returned to Glasgow where he was part of “‘a little local renaissance’ with figures including the Scottish Colourist John Duncan Fergusson”…

And the child, protected by the mother certainly, but with a distinct – if perhaps uncertain – individuality that recalls Joan Eardley’s portraits of children such as “Brother and Sister” [1955]:

Eardley, Joan Kathleen Harding; Brother and Sister; Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums;

Looking through William Crosbie’s paintings at National Galleries of Scotland and it is clear that he was brilliantly experimental, and that colour was central to his vision as the second painting of his at The Beecroft, “Hampshire Harvest” [1991; Reiff Collection], also shows. In subject matter and style (and indeed scale, for it is tiny in comparison with “Mother and Child” canvas) this is quite a contrast, but the richness of the palette is breath-taking…

Crosbie, William; Hampshire Harvest; The Reiff Collection;

Oh, couldn’t one just walk over that little bridge into the golden field of corn – utterly gorgeous!


The Reiff Collection is on show at The Beecroft, Southend on Sea until 30th October:

see Southend Museums for further details.

About TheCommonViewer

Independent Researcher: gently exploring the art and artists of early 20th century Britain (with forays elsewhere, in particular Russian Art History); the Art, Books & History Group meets monthly in Southend-on-Sea Twitter: @TheCommonViewer

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