Paul McPhail self-portrait leads Scottish art sale

The only recorded self-portrait of Paul McPhail with the artist, Jenny Saville, to whom he is married, will star in Bonhams Scottish Art Sale on May 15, 2024.  Mother & Child dated 1992, oil on canvas, is being offered with an estimate of £30,000-50,000.

Paul McPhail painting entitled 'Mother & Child'

Painted in 1992, shortly after the completion of their studies at the Glasgow School of Art, the work shows a young artist fascinated by the human body, and one who was not afraid to challenge accepted notions of beauty while exploring deeper themes of the human condition.

Leo Webster, Picture Specialist at Bonhams Edinburgh commented: “The inspiration for Mother & Child is Michelangelo’s marble La Pieta housed in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Unlike the original, with its focus on harmony and balance in its more refined form, McPhail’s figures are all too human. There is real weight and volume to these fleshy bodies, rendered so effectively in McPhail’s dynamic brushstrokes. We are delighted to be offering this work in the Scottish Art Sale alongside an exceptional selection of works from rare pieces by artist and playwright, John Byrne to outstanding works by the Scottish Colourists.”

Other figurative works featured in the sale include, Nude Girl’, an oil on canvas by Eric Robertson (British, 1887-1941), painted in 1921 with an estimate of £30,000-50,000. Robertson was credited as one of the most brilliant art students of his time.

Eric Harold Macbeth Robertson painting entitled 'Nude Girl'

Together with his first wife, Cecile Walton (1891-1956), they became the most controversial members of The Edinburgh Group who exhibited before and after the First World War. Robertson gained notoriety in Edinburgh with his frank portrayal of the female nude. May Matthews, Head of Sale for Scottish Art and Managing Director of Bonhams Scotland commented: “It is an honour to offer such an important and rare work. ‘Nude Girl’, measuring 101.6 x 152.4 cm, is an excellent example of Robertson’s work on a grand scale.”

Rare works by John Byrne (1940-2023) described as “one of the most inventive and versatile of all Scotland’s modern artists” will also feature in the sale. Study of a rabbit, from 1960, oil on panel, is offered with an estimate of £8,000-10,000, while a portrait, Terry Skinner in watercolour, ink and charcoal has an estimate of £3,000-5,000.  Other works by Byrne include Pink Boots, watercolour, pastel and ink, estimate: £3,000-5,000, ‘Bomba’ from Tutti Frutti, ink, gouache and gesso on card, estimate: £800-1,200 and ‘Beachboy with Cat & Fish’, hand-coloured etching with an estimate of £500-700.

John Byrne painting entitled 'The Rabbit'

John Byrne’s career spanned the acclaimed BBC television series Tutti Frutti, the Slab Boys theatre trilogy, and an album cover for the Beatles. He died, aged 83 in November last year. A masterful painter, known for his self-portraits, as well as designing theatre sets and album covers including for Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly. His paintings are displayed in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. He was married to the Oscar-winning actor Tilda Swinton.

The Scottish Colourists, active in the twentieth century, breathed new life into Scottish painting and responded to the new developments in painting in France before 1914, influenced by the vibrant use of colour and free brushwork.

Work by all four of the Colourists – George Leslie Hunter (British, 1877-1931), Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell RSA RSW (British 1883-1937), Samuel John Peploe RSA (British, 1446-1935) and John Duncan Fergusson RBA (British, 1874-1961) will be offered in the sale. This spring also marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of John Duncan Fergusson.

John Duncan Fergusson painting entitled 'Head of a Girl'

Born in Leith, Fergusson was both a painter and sculptor and spent most of his life between Paris and London. An interest in travel introduced him to new artists and styles and he became attracted to the work of Diego Velázquez, who he discovered while in Spain. Head of a Girl, oil on board, by Fergusson, signed and dated 1914, has an estimate of £20,000-30,000.