Famous Former Pupils

Sir Alexander Fleming

Lord Boyd Orr

Robert Colquhoun by John Deakin
(Copyright NPG P295)

Woman with Leaping Cat 1945

Two Sisters 1945

Robert Colquhoun (1914-62)


The most widely-acknowledged artist which the Academy has produced is Robert Colquhoun who was a pupil from 1927 until 1933. His school record, still preserved in Kilmarnock Academy, was adequate but by no means brilliant. It was, however, in Art that he shone, his marks in the subject steadily rising as he progressed through the school. Even as a pupil his command of his medium was exceptional - a lino-cut done in S5 appeared in the Goldberry in 1931 and a line drawing produced in S6 in 1963. An early influence on him was his Art teacher at Kilmarnock Academy, Mr J. Lyle. Colquhoun won a scholarship to the Glasgow School of Art and he later studied in Italy, France, Holland and Belgium.


monoprint 1962

Line -wash drawing 1933 (in 6th Year)

While abroad, he and his partner, fellow-Ayrshire painter Robert McBride, enjoyed playing the rôle of bohemian Scots. Colquhoun was injured when on ambulance service in World War II. Returning to Britain in 1941, he moved to London with McBride. There he was friendly with a number of prominent figures in literary and artistic circles such as Dylan Thomas and Wyndham Lewis.

Colquhoun's style during the post-war era was heavily influenced by English and continental models. Like the English painter Francis Bacon, Colquhoun's vision is a tortured, nihilistic one. His paintings show grief-laden, agonised figures. The distortion which his paintings of this period show was strongly influenced by Picasso: like Picasso, Colquhoun used mask-like faces to express powerfully the fears of the twentieth century. Colquhoun's is a profoundly modern art

The following obituary appeared in the Goldberry, the school magazine in 1963:

A year ago, in September, one of Kilmarnock Academy's most distinguished former pupils, Robert Colquhoun died. It is a pity that it had to be the occasion of his death that brought his work to our attention. A posthumous exhibition to some of his paintings and monotypes was staged at the Dick Institute in May.

Robert Colquhoun was born in Kilmarnock in 1914. From an early age his artistic talent was recognised, during the six years when he was a pupil of Kilmarnock Academy, he was encouraged in every way by the late Mr. J. Lyle. Several of his drawings were published in "Goldberry" during the years 1927-33.

After winning a scholarship to Glasgow school of Art in 1933 he further distinguished himself by winning a post-diploma award for an additional year at the school, and a travelling scholarship to Italy. It was at this point in his career he met Robert MacBryde, with whom he remained firm friends until his untimely death. MacBryde accompanied him to London and there his acquaintances included Michael Ayrton, Dylan Thomas, Jankel Adler and Wyndham Lewis. Many literary contemporaries influenced him. His breadth in art mirrored the breadth of argument which he must have enjoyed with his fellow artists. He was commissioned by several writers to illustrate their works, while both he and MacBryde designed the décor and the costumes for the Scottish ballet "Donald of the Burthens" produced at Covent Garden, and "King Lear" at Stratford. He experimented with monotypes and saw the possibilities of this medium and his work in it shows how uniquely he developed it.

He went to London in 1941 and although he lived and worked there until his death he never forgot his early visual experiences of Ayrshire and Kilmarnock. He was greatly influenced by this countryside, this strongly coloured landscape of dairy farms, deep lush country and sparse woodlands, with the particularly light and colour along the Ayrshire coast. he was faithful to all this in his early work. His study of farm labourers and workmen, which no doubt came directly from his early experiences are full of conviction and feeling,. Robert Colquhoun had complete mastery of handling. He worked beautifully with a perfectly fluent and precise instinct and in this he was a typical product of both Glasgow School of Art and Mr. Lyle.

On first seeing Colquhoun's later paintings, his work seems cold and austere. However, with familiarity the beauty of his shapes, his superb draughtsmanship and his feeling for line soon became apparent. His human figures, in mute alignment, seem to be performers in a ritual drama, rather than people living a life of their own. His best oil paintings have real feeling in them and an absolutely genuine tragic grandeur.

The impact of Robert Colquhoun's work should be an inspiration to every pupil of Kilmarnock Academy. No matter where our talents lie, his intensity of purpose and singlemindedness should serve as an example to us all. It is only fitting that some of his best work should be on permanent exhibition in his hometown, here in Kilmarnock. Colquhoun's work will undoubtedly last and find an honourable place in the unfolding history of British art.

Goldberry (1963), p.52. ©Kilmarnock Academy