Balancing bold, flat applications of vivid colour with slender, descriptive lines, Roses is exemplary of Cadell’s distinctively strong and elegant style. The deceptively simple still life of a bowl and a midnight blue jug containing five roses has been carefully arranged and tightly composed. The jug is at the centre of the picture, its silhouette clearly reflected in the table-top beneath it. Its dark sturdiness contrasts with the delicacy of the roses, emphasising their subtle pink shades and the complicated construction of their petals. Cadell plays with the effects of one colour on another throughout the picture, creating harmony through their skilful distribution. The dusky pink bowl, for instance, is picked up in the reflections on the jug and rose leaves, while a single green mark on the base of the jug prevents the intense green of the wall behind the scene becoming too dominant. Executed using loaded and assertive brushstrokes, Cadell has given Roses has an almost sculptural sense of solidity.
Born in 1883, Cadell was the youngest of the group who came to be known as the Scottish Colourists, and the only one to fight in the First World War. Educated in Paris at the liberal Académie Julien between 1899 and 1902, he would have been aware of the innovations of his French contemporaries such as Degas, Matisse and Derain. In this work, their influence is evident in the crisp graphic blocks of tone and dark outlines that help articulate form, as well as in the exuberant colours on his palette.
However, unlike S.J. Peploe and J.D. Fergusson, Cadell decided to remain in Scotland while they continued to live and work in France. By all accounts a dashing and sociable personality, Cadell was much stimulated by Edinburgh society during the pre-war period. His elegant, heavily Art Deco influenced paintings of interiors proved especially popular.
On his return from the trenches, his work gained the confidence that is demonstrated in Roses, which was painted in 1925. His colours brightened, the structure of his compositions became even tighter, and his forms more streamlined. After seeing Cadell's first London exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1923, the art critic for the Daily Mail noted, ‘he has solidified his style. All forms are stated with an assurance that carries conviction. He has passed from vague impression to architectoric organisation’ (quoted in T. Hewlett, Cadell: A Scottish Colourist, London, 1988, p. 61).
Cadell was able to secure a good studio in the centre of the city, which he took much care over decorating well. His biographer’s description of his studio at Ainslie Place, where he moved in around 1920, seems to match the interiors depicted in Roses:
‘He used the drawing room as his studio, and painted the walls in a rich mauve colour in sharp contrast to the brilliant white-painted woodwork of the paneled, inter-connecting doors. The highly polished dark wooden floor reflected the bright colours of the carefully placed Whytock and Reid furniture and provided the theme for many of his dramatic interiors’ (op. cit. p. 54).
Cadell continued to paint original, exultant still lifes over the course until his death in 1937, experimenting with spatial complexities and colour relationships and delighting in the quality of the paint. As his friend Stanley Cursiter, artist and director of the National Galleries of Scotland, remarked, ‘Cadell was spontaneous and gay; for him nature in her brightest dress was the reflection of his own joy in the paints on his palette’ (S. Cursiter, quoted in op. cit., p. 7).