'The Rhythm of Light' Exhibition at The Barber Institute | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

‘The Rhythm of Light’ Exhibition at The Barber Institute

Culture Editor Natalie Welch reviews The Barber Institute's newest exhibition, The Rhythm of Light: Scottish Colourists from the Fleming Collection

The Barber Institute recently opened the doors to its newest exhibition, The Rhythm of Light: Scottish Colourists from the Fleming Collection. The exhibition introduces and displays four artists: Samuel John Peploe, John Duncan Fergusson, George Leslie Hunter and Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell. These four artists are known collectively as the Scottish Colourists. Selected pieces of their work are being shown for the first time in the West Midlands, kindly lent to The Barber by the Fleming Collection.

As an introduction to the exhibition, The Barber hang two magnetic frames on a wall, with magnetic shapes on the floor. Visitors could experiment and have some fun making their own ‘Scottish Colourist Masterpiece’ without the need for paint and an easel. Art exhibitions - especially ones that focus on a specific and niche artistic movement - can often feel alienating for anyone lacking a history of art degree. The Barber tackle this problem rather creatively with these magnetic frames. As you’re playing around with the shapes you’re able to grasp what the artists might have been doing in their paintings a little more than you would without the exercise. Alongside the magnetic frames are a few text books on the Scottish Colourists scattered on a table, useful for having a quick flick through before entering the exhibition or reading a little further on something that intrigued you at the end of the exhibition.

Their experimentation and exploration of colour is something quite obvious to any viewer of the artworks. However, the exhibition is fairly comprehensive one. I left the gallery feeling like I had a good understanding of who the Scottish colourists were and what they were trying to do, not just what their work looked like. Essentially, Peploe, Fergusson, Hunter and Cadell were reacting to ‘sentimental realism’ that was traditional in Scotland during their formative years. Instead, they looked to French artists for inspiration. Quoting Ferguson, ‘Paris is simply a place of freedom… it has always been a centre of light and learning and research.’ They aimed to explore colour in their pieces, in an emotional, decorative and structural sense. The Colourists’ developed the idea of ‘rhythm’ to describe their work. The ‘rhythm’ is demonstrated by their use of colour and defined brush strokes.

The exhibition displays the work thematically. It begins with still life, then figure studies and townscapes, and finally a section demonstrating how the French influence affected their approach to capturing the Scottish Landscape. Whilst all the pieces were wonderful and thought-provoking, my favourite section would be still life. Peploe’s Roses and Cadell’s The Feathered Hat were the two pieces that caught my attention the most. The vivid colours, and lack of bold outlines in Roses was something that I found captivating and hard to move away from. Because of the blocks of colour, the painting is flattened out, yet, in my opinion, it still manages to capture the life of the roses. The Feathered Hat is vastly different, but still just as charming. The harsh brushstrokes to give the woman’s reflection as much attention as the actual woman in the painting, it is incredibly interesting. The only pop of colour in the painting is the flower on the woman’s coat. I walked away from that painting wondering about what that pop of colour meant within the painting. Whilst these were my personal favourites from the exhibition, you’ll find plenty more fascinating and intriguing pieces there.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Rhythm of Light, it is both aesthetically and intellectually pleasing. My only criticism would be that there was not more to see. I would definitely recommend (and encourage) everyone to see the exhibition before it ends. It is free admission to the gallery, and all exhibitions in the Barber. The Rhythm of Light will be running until the 13th May 2018.

Images used with permission of the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation, via the Barber Institute.



Second year English Literature student and online culture editor. (@natwelxh)


25th February 2018 at 9:00 am

Images from

The Barber Institute and Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation