William Johnstone

A Point in Time (About 1929 / 1937)

About this artwork

Johnstone began this painting in 1929, when he was living in Selkirk after his return from America. It is his largest painting of this period and the artist later emphasised its importance by taking the title for his autobiography. He stated that this painting and two other works ‘grew out of my horror of the disease of war, of the anticipation of future tragedy - they were never intended for drawing rooms.’ The shapes in the painting are reminiscent of natural forms, highlighted with coloured light and including mysterious, cavernous spaces. Although abstract, it has been suggested that the shapes are influenced by the landscapes of the Scottish Borders. Johnstone reworked many of his paintings of the 1920s and this painting was probably altered prior to its first exhibition in 1938.

  • title: A Point in Time
  • accession number: GMA 1254
  • artist: William JohnstoneScottish (1897 - 1981)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Painting
  • subject: Wars and Conflicts
  • materials: Oil on canvas
  • date created: About 1929 / 1937
  • measurements: 137.20 x 243.80 cm (framed: 143.50 x 250.00 x 3.00 cm)
  • credit line: Presented by Mrs Hope Montagu Douglas Scott 1971
  • copyright: © William Johnstone
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve

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.