‘It seems to me more than ever clear that [Cadell’s] forte lies in a gift of colour and light – these seen in a joyous mood’ (J. Pittendrigh McGillovray, quoted in P. Long, exhibition catalogue, The Scottish Colourists 1900-1930, Edinburgh, 2000, p. 75).
by Iona and its environs Cadell would spend most of his summers on the island painting the ever shifting light of this western Scottish isle. In 1927, on the way to returning for yet another summer, Cadell stopped in the small hamlet of Auchnacraig, situated on the eastern coast of the Isle of Mull. His stay there resulted in a number of works distinctive in the prevailing warm green tones, capturing local alleys, views from hill tops and gardens.
The Avenue - Auchnacraig is one of the finest examples of this group in the Colourist’s oeuvre. It depicts a country road winding in the distance, surrounded by rows of sturdy trees, with an abundant foliage densely populating the upper space. Variously angled, textured brushstrokes gradually build this perfectly balanced composition, almost like a mosaic. Through the expressively applied patches of myriad tones of green, brown and blue, Cadell captures the sensation of a softly sun-dappled ground on a clear summer day. It is a celebration of the natural rhythm that captivates the viewer whose eye is softly guided creating a sensation of a place full of vitality and freshness.
Cadell’s mature landscapes are deeply indebted to Paul Cézanne’s technique of ‘constructive strokes’ developed by the French artist in the 1880s. The short parallel brushstrokes of warm and cold tones are directly comparable with Cézanne’s depiction of a Farm in Normandy, aka Hattenville. Cézanne’s work bears strong lightness and harmony with his hues of green smoothly transforming with a pastel-like appearance. Cadell builds on the French artist’s approach and adds to it by applying contrasting colours next to each other with strong and wide brushstrokes for the ground.
In the 1920s, in his strive for achieving a more luminous quality in his work, Cadell started painting on unprimed canvases (T. Hewlett & D. Macmillan, F.C.B.Cadell, Farnham, 2011, p. 15). The stunningly shimmering light in The Avenue - Auchnacraig is partially a result of this technique. The artist meticulously inscribed the painting with a short warning on the reverse: ‘Absorbed ground, NEVER varnish’.
On leaving Auchnacraig Cadell would have taken the painting with him for the summer in Iona. It was probably purchased by the Glasgow shipowner G.W. Service on Iona - one of the most important patrons of the artist who also spent his summers on the island. The widowed Service would often bring his eight children and their nanny along renting a farmhouse in Traighmor. Cadell was close to the family - a photograph from as early as 1913 captures the artist together with John, Harvie and G.W. Service.