Rare Scottish art treasures to go on public display

Lucy Brown of Sotheby's with Major Harrison's Colourist collection. Picture: John Devlin
Lucy Brown of Sotheby's with Major Harrison's Colourist collection. Picture: John Devlin
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A VAST private collection of Scottish art treasures never seen in public before is expected to spark a multi-million pound bidding war when it comes under the hammer within weeks.

More than 30 paintings, watercolours and drawings by the celebrated “Scottish Colourists” have gone on display together for the first time ever ahead of being auctioned off by Sotheby’s in London next month after being kept in the same family for decades.

The works, which were unveiled at Glasgow Art Club yesterday, were amassed by a single collector who championed and befriended the artists George Leslie Hunter, Samuel John Peploe, Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell and John Duncan Fergusson in the 1920s and 1930s.

Some of the works which are being sold off by the family of the Glasgow shipping magnate Major Ion Harrison are expected to fetch up to £600,000 on their own and more than £5 million in total.

The works, which will also be on display at the headquarters of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo on 11 and 12 May, are being sold off by four of Major Harrison’s grandchildren.

There has been a resurgence of interest in the work of the artists, who were hugely influenced by the extended time they spent in France, in recent years thanks to a number of major exhibitions. Their work is held in various public 
collections, including the National Galleries,in Edinburgh and Kelvingrove in Glasgow.

Major Harrison first encountered the work of the Colourist artists, described by Sotheby’s as “arguably the most avant-garde British artists of their day”, when a friend, Dr Thomas John Honeyman, encouraged him to attend a Peploe exhibition in Glasgow.

He later recalled: “I had never seen anything in art similar to these pictures... they really startled me for, to my eyes, they were so ‘ultra-modern’.”

Major Harrison would go on to collect more than 150 paintings for his Victrorian villa, Croft House, in Helensburgh, in Argyll, which was regularly visited by Hunter, Peploe and Cadell, as their friendship with him developed.

Most of the 31 works of art going under the hammer at Sotheby’s were hung until recently at Croft House, which has been put up for sale by the same family members.

Thomas Podd, Scottish art specialist at Sotheby’s, which will auction the collection on June 12, said: “Major Ion Harrison was a partner in a very prominent shipping company in Glasgow and also served with distinction in the First World War.

“He was very friendly with Honeyman, the collector responsible for bringing Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross to Glasgow, who was also a major early supporter of the Colourists. They moved in similar social circles. It was his encouragement that set Harrison on the path to this collection.

“We’re very fortunate in that he wrote down all his reminiscences of the Colourists, which he focused on almost predominantly in his collecting.”

brian.ferguson@jpress.co.uk