More than half a century since their deaths, the first major retrospective of two trailblazing artists who burned out all too quickly.
In 1950, Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde were among the most celebrated artists on the London scene. Less than 20 years later, they had both died as alcoholics in relative obscurity.
Few artists have ever risen to fame so dramatically, or fallen from grace so precipitously, as the men who were known as ‘the two Roberts’: two Scottish artists from working-class backgrounds who met at the Glasgow School of Art and took the art world by storm with their unflinching Modernist works and infectious social energy; an openly gay couple in the public eye at a time when prosecution for homosexuality could lead to prison sentences or worse.
The Roberts’ similarities can mask their differences. Colquhoun was predominantly a figure painter, leaving behind an early fascination with work and agriculture to depict a series of tortured figures in the vein of Picasso. In contrast, MacBryde was known for his still lifes and landscape paintings, although the development of his style – Cubism, later evolving into Expressionism – moved in parallel to Colquhoun’s.
Their careers, too, followed similar trajectories – as the popularity of figurative painting waned, supplanted by the rise of abstraction, so their drinking increased and their creative output collapsed, accelerating their fall into obscurity.