The Paintings of John Duncan, A Scottish Symbolist
Scottish painter John Duncan (1866–1945) established his early style with paintings based on Arthurian legend; then he applied himself to Celtic myths and legends to create a series of paintings that are unique among early-twentieth-century Scottish art. While the Symbolist movement was probably his most important source of inspiration, his paintings were imbued with the spirit of the Italian Renaissance, and he spent much of his life experimenting with various compositions of tempera in order to obtain the precise density of color and smoothness of surface that characterize his work.
In this book, a revised edition of the first full-color monograph ever published on Duncan (Pomegranate, 1994), author John Kemplay outlines Duncan's technical, intellectual, and spiritual development as an artist and his close association with Patrick Geddes, the botanist and socialist who was devoted to a renaissance of Celtic art and who was instrumental in Duncan's commitment to the same. Duncan eventually created a unique body of work rich in Celtic legend and ornament and steeped in the tradition of the Byzantine style. He came to have a vital influence on the art of Scotland and left behind an unparalleled legacy of painting.
Kemplay used as his principal resource for this book a series of Duncan's notebooks donated to the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh by the artist's daughter, as well as letters written by Duncan, Geddes, and others, also in the collection of the Library. He also accessed materials from the Dundee Art Galleries and Museums, the University of St. Andrews, and the University of Strathclyde.
About the Author
John Kemplay was born and educated in London. He studied British art at the Tate Gallery and later moved to Edinburgh, where he now specializes in paintings and drawings by a number of Scottish artists who were active in the early part of the twentieth century. He has arranged several public exhibitions of works by Scottish artists (including John Duncan) at the City of Edinburgh Art Centre and the Talbot Rice Gallery of the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of a book about the Scottish artists Eric Robertson and Cecile Walton, The Two Companions (Crowhurst, 1991).