Exhibit of the Week: Whitby by Margaret Douthwaite, Scarborough Collections

Margaret Douthwaite's pastel  called Whitby has recently been purchased by Scarborough Museums Trust for the Scarborough  Collections.
Margaret Douthwaite's pastel called Whitby has recently been purchased by Scarborough Museums Trust for the Scarborough Collections.

This week’s exhibit is a recently acquired artwork purchased by Scarborough Museums Trust for the Scarborough Collections with help from the Victoria and Albert Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of Scarborough Art Gallery. The piece in question is a pastel by the Scottish artist Pat Douthwaite (1934-2002), Whitby, 1990.

Douthwaite was born in Glasgow in 1934 but always claimed to have been born in 1939. She began life as a dancer in 1947 and was taught mime and modern dance by the 
famous dancer and choreographer Margaret Morris, founder of the Margaret Morris Movement.

Through Morris, Douthwaite met the artist JD Fergusson, who was Margaret’s husband. He offered Douthwaite her first introduction to art, which ultimately changed the course of her life.

Fergusson was a landscape painter and taught Douthwaite how to appreciate the effect of light on a scene. During this period she continued to perform with the Margaret Morris Movement dancers and was a member of Morris’s Celtic Ballet, which performed at the Jacob’s Pillow Theatre, Massachusetts, in 1954.

In the late 1950s, she decided to leave dancing behind in order to become a professional artist. However, Fergusson persuaded her not to pursue any formal art training. Instead, when she left Scotland in 1958, she chose to mix with a group of significant Scottish artists, which included Robert MacBryde and his partner Robert Colquhoun.

One of the artists Douthwaite met in Glasgow was William Crozier, with whom she lived in East Anglia. However, her relationship with all of these artists is not clear. Nevertheless, she must have learned from them and their experiences as they were all established artists.

From the mid-1940s until the early 1950s Colquhoun was regarded as one of the most important artists of his generation.

His early works focussed on working men and later developed into an Expressionist style, which was clearly influenced by Picasso. Colquhoun developed a professional as well as a personal relationship with Robert MacBryde and they were known as ‘the two Roberts’. While they were at their most famous Colquhoun and MacBryde were friends with a wealth of important artists, literary figures and intellectuals, such as Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Dylan Thomas and Michael Ayrton.

They hosted their famous friends at notorious parties held in their Bedford Gardens studio. Sadly, ‘the two Roberts’ died in tragic circumstances: Colquhoun as an alcoholic in 1962 and MacBryde in a traffic accident in 1966.

Colquhoun’s later partiality for concentrating on the agonised individual in his art may have had an impact on Douthwaite’s work as many of her pieces are figurative, often featuring a single figure.

Her art often focusses on themes surrounding femininity and womanhood, although she did not describe herself as a feminist. Consequently, this piece depicting Whitby is a rather unusual subject for Douthwaite.

Between 1959 and 1988 she spent a great deal of time travelling across Europe, the USA, South America, North Africa and South Asia. From 1969 she also spent part of the time living in Majorca. We know that on her return she did live in York for a time, so it is 
possible that she produced this pastel of Whitby during that period.

This artwork is an extremely important acquisition for Scarborough as it helps to add to the number of female artists represented within the collections and also meets the Trust’s aim to collect more contemporary seascapes. Whitby features in the recent rehang of Scarborough Art Gallery and can be found in the seascapes room.

Whitby is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust.

For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.