William Johnstone

Summer, Selkirk (About 1927 / About 1938 / About 1951 (Dated 1927))

About this artwork

Johnstone’s work of the late 1920s was unique in Scottish art in its combination of Surrealism and abstraction. This painting was begun around 1927 and was later reworked, like many of the artist’s early paintings. The underlying curvilinear structure remains from the original version but the drawn lines were added at a later date. Despite the title of the painting, it does not depict Selkirk but only indicates where the work was completed. Johnstone preferred not to paint from nature but rather to combine his experience of nature with his knowledge of art history to ‘produce landscapes of greater intensity and depth. I used my native landscape as a basis of a free development of movement and direction.’

William Johnstone

William Johnstone

Johnstone was born in Denholm in the Scottish Borders. He worked on the family farm during the First World War, selling up in 1919 to study at Edinburgh College of Art. He went on to the Royal Scottish Academy Schools, winning the Carnegie travelling scholarship in 1925. Most of his professional life was spent teaching in London; he was Principal of Camberwell School of Art from 1938 and Central School of Art from 1947 to 1960. As well as being a highly original painter, he was an influential spokesman for art education and a friend of Hugh MacDiarmid. Johnstone returned to Scotland on his retirement and spent the last two decades of his life painting large abstract works.