Object of the week

While the Pathfoot Building is closed, the Art Collection will each week focus on an object of interest. You can also search our entire collection online here.

Cool Interior – A Rememberance
Robin Philipson
(Oil on canvas, 1974)

Robin Philipson was first inspired to paint churches after visiting French cathedrals – especially Amiens – whilst on annual holidays there in the 1950s. Early works focused on the grandeur of cathedral exteriors, but soon his interest shifted inside, to the glow of light produced by sun shining through coloured stained glass. Philipson painted several rose window paintings, of which this is a particularly fine example.

It was presented to the University Chaplaincy in May 1974, created specifically for this location, and was gifted by the artist in memory of Tom Cottrell, the first Principal of the University, who had died suddenly in post in 1973. The many facets of the painting symbolised to the artist the piece-by-piece creation of the University and this also represents his appreciation and affection for Tom Cottrell.

There are two further works of Philipson’s in the permanent collection. The painting shown below, purchased for the brand new Art Collection in 1967, is entitled ‘Martyr’.

Martyr (Oil on canvas, 1966)

Philipson had lost his first wife Brenda Ellis Mark at the age of only thirty seven to a brain tumour in 1960, and many of his works during the following years speak of grief and a sombre sadness. Unlike most of his close contemporaries who were abstract artists, Philipson was never quite able to desert the motif in his work, and was unusual in using expressionism to mirror human experience in this way. Although this painting initially looks like a fully abstract canvas, divided into sections of pure colour, on closer inspection the figure of the martyr can be found in the dark grey panel towards the left of the canvas. Head bowed and body dejected, he seems no longer to be able to bear even his own weight.

Burning (Watercolour, 1963)

Philipson produced several different series of paintings, and during the 1960s one of these themes was burning. This small, dramatic watercolour also includes a rose window, as well as the suggestion of something burning in the foreground. The vigorous handling of the paint, almost scratched onto the paper, implies violence, and yet the use of watercolour gives a quieter feel to the background than was apparent in his oil paintings.

Robin Philipson was a significant and influential presence on the Scottish Art Scene for more than three decades. He had numerous commitments as Head of School of Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art, and in his 50s was President of the Royal Scottish Academy, but he was above all a practising painter, ranking as one of the most distinguished and prolific artists of the Edinburgh School.

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