Featuring Fife: Then and Now Images of the Kingdom of Fife

“Ceres” by Samuel John Peploe (RSA), oil painting depicting the historic village of Ceres in Fife, © University of St Andrews

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and the “feeling” of the nation.  Each piece of artwork was chosen because it captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is part four of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

Numerous images from the Recording Scotland collection highlight the beautiful scenery of Fife.  Whether it was due to the committee head, Sir James Irvine, being based at St Andrews or just simply the excess of lovely images, Fife was a focus for many artists then as it remains today.

“The Forth Bridge” by Robert C. Robertson (1890 – 1942), image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

One of the great fears of the time was that German bombs would destroy the precious parts of Scotland. Early in October of 1939, German Luftwaffe flew up the River Forth to attack the battlecruiser HMS Hood.  Bombers made successful hits on several naval vessels nearby while passengers looked on in horror from the train traveling over the bridge.  Luckily, British aircraft were able to bring down several German planes at Port Seton and Crail, even capturing a pair of German prisoners of war after fishing them out of the water. The prisoners were taken and held at Edinburgh Castle.  The raid also marked the first time that Spitfires battled in the skies. As a result of the Forth Bridge Raid, barrage balloons and early air raid sirens were introduced, creating a frightening but necessary soundtrack to the era.

Even the famous golf courses of St Andrews had to be altered to ensure that enemy forces could not land or come ashore on the long fairways.  Poles, humps, and trenches were strategically placed around the courses to help protect the countryside.  Some amused golfers consider the changes improvements to the course as it increased the challenge.

“St Monance Kirk” by John Guthrie Spence Smith, Oil painting featuring the historic 13th century church in the village of St Monans, Fife, ©University of St Andrews

A year later a bombing raid also damaged university buildings and St Mary’s Quad. The University Museums collections hold pieces of the shrapnel which resulted from the damage.  The threat to Fife was real, even as Polish soldiers took refuge in the community.  The displaced army became a curious part of the St Andrews landscape as they enrolled in classes and sang on their way to church.

The fears of invasion and destruction preyed upon the minds of citizens, which influenced the Committee to find views of Scotland that preserved, inspired, and recalled those places worth protecting.  Today, the work of capturing images has evolved to include the digital renderings of the very same landscapes.

Kilconquhar Church, photography by ©John Murray Jr, images courtesy of Welcome to Fife


(Left) St Monance Kirk & (right) view of Ceres,  photography by ©John Murray Jr, images ©courtesy of Welcome to Fife

On Instagram, @WelcometoFife is the page curated and filled by photographer John Murray Jr.  These beautiful images give us a modern-day insight into many of the the very same places that were shown in the Recording Scotland collection in the 1940s.

Bridges on the Forth by Ellianna Morton, ©Ellianna Morton

Recently we have been lucky enough to be invited to feature some artworks from a new generation of artists who have been recording Scotland!  These young artists who participated in the University of Edinburgh’s summer workshop “Capturing Lives in Scotland’s Communities-An Arts Award Explore Online Project.”  Students aged 11-18 worked with university museums staff to learn about different themes and media styles.  The St Andrews University Museums helped during the landscape week with information about the Recording Scotland collection.  While these pieces are not part of our museum collection, they give us a sneak peek at up and coming artists and we could not resist sharing their landscape artworks.

Here is the University of Edinburgh Museum’s Community Outreach Coordinator Laura Beattie’s explanation of the student art.

“During our week on landscape painting, we looked at many different landscape paintings and discussed the different techniques used to make them: some were abstract, like Karen Goode’s Untitled work from Duncan of Jordanstone’s College of Art and Design, which elicited many different responses. Some of us found it scary or threatening while others found it calming. We also looked at work which aimed to be more representational, like those in the University of St Andrews’ ‘Recording Scotland’ collection. We agreed that, given the context of the collection, it was important for the works to be at least somewhat realistic. Our young artists then went on to create their own landscape artworks inspired by the works we had looked at.”


Over the next few Recording Scotland blogs we will feature the art from four of the students who participated in the program.  They have all captured views from their own lives and communities and represent a new generation of artists who are recording their Scotland.




From Girls to Immortals: Meet the Women Artists of Recording Scotland

Photograph of “The Immortals”, Katherine Cameron is pictured second from left in the middle row alongside other notable “Glasgow Girls” artists such as Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh (back row), Image from WikiCommons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Immortals!.jpg
Riddell’s Court, Lawnmarket by Katherine Kay Cameron, ©Ewan Cameron Watt, image reproduced by University of St Andrews with permission by E. Cameron Watt

The Recording Scotland collection is a set of watercolours, oils and prints collected during World War II to permanently capture the landscapes and the “feeling” of the nation.  Each piece of artwork was chosen because it captured an essential view of Scotland; with emphasis on the places most likely threatened by war and industrialization.  This is part three of a series of blogs about different aspects of the Recording Scotland collection.

The Recording Scotland scheme provided an opportunity for male and female artists from across Scotland.  Here we feature just a few of the female artists who contributed to the collection.

Katherine Cameron (1874-1965) came from a large, artistic family in Glasgow.  Following her brother, D. Y. Cameron, she studied in Glasgow and later Paris, perfecting her techniques in etching, watercolour, and oils.  She is most known for her work in capturing landscapes and flowers. She was a member of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists, which provided a supportive network for meeting and exhibiting work. The group known as the “Glasgow Girls” were female artists trained in the 1890s and socialised with popular figures like Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  The group of artists playfully called themselves “The Immortals,” referencing their love of Celtic mythology or possibly the immortality bestowed by creating artwork.  Cameron married wealthy art collector, Arthur Kay in 1927. Two of her pieces purchased for the scheme were originally printed as illustrations in “Haunted Edinburgh” in 1928.  Hundreds of her works are held by major institutions including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Cross Wynd, Falkland by Anna Dixon, Watercolour (1920-1942), courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

Anna Dixon (1873-1959) was another prolific artist of birds, flowers, and figures in landscapes. Dixon enjoyed painting in France and the west coast of Scotland.  Her artwork was known to feature crofts, donkeys, horses, and children.  Of the pieces chosen for the Recording Scotland collection, her painting of Cross Wynd in Falkland highlights the domestic lives of the citizens.

May Marshall Brown (1887-1968), born May Mary Robertson, was the daughter of an Edinburgh wine merchant.  She studied at Edinburgh College of Art and later married the artist, William Marshall Brown, who was 24 years her senior. His influence is witnessed in her style of work. May Marshall Brown is best known for her watercolours of fishing villages and boats.  As she explained to the committee, “I mainly paint boats, sea and fishermen working, since the war I have not had a chance to continue the work, as one is so much disturbed by military at the shore, even when one has a permit to paint.” She was able to sell three paintings, and her late husband posthumously contributed four to the Committee. Brown was the artist who contributed last week’s piece, “Cat Row, Dunbar.”  We will also learn more about one of William Marshall Brown’s paintings of the Oronsay Priory in a future post.

Ann Spence Black (1861-1947) provided seven paintings to Recording Scotland collection. Born in Dysart, Fife she was seemingly self-taught. She lived in Edinburgh and spent time painting the east coast of Scotland, and the areas around Culross. Black is one of the oldest contributors to the collection, being well into her 80s at the time of the Second World War.

“Crail Harbour” (1920 – 1942), by Ann Spence Black, Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews Museums

The artwork contributed by women makes up about twenty percent of the collection which leaves the lion’s share to male artists and their representation of Scotland.  It is also interesting to note that the female artists tended to be in the later decades of their lives. Many of the women were in their late 50s, 60s, and 70s when they were submitting works.  Some of them, like May Marshall Brown, were also carrying on the legacies of others by sending works for consideration from departed family and friends.

The decades had been hard for these women artists who witnessed not only one war but two, but they persevered in their art and interests.  For them and other women artists of this period in particular for Katherine Cameron and the rest of the Glasgow Girls It is not impossible to imagine they remembered fondly their “immortal” days before the turn of the century and hoped to secure a place in history by submitting these tender pieces to posterity.