Tuesday , 28 January 2020

Forgotten Artists – Robert & Robert

The Two Roberts. Photograph: Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Two Roberts. Photograph: Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

History is packed with homosexual heroes; unfortunately not all make the history books. Robert Colquhoun was a Scottish artist, described by friends as “openly gay at a time it was illegal to be so”.

Colquhoun was born in Kilmarnock in 1914 and grew up to win a scholarship, attending Glasgow School of Art. This is where he met his partner of twenty years, Robert MacBryde. The couple became well known professionally as “the two Roberts”. They travelled Europe in the late 1930’s, likely gaining inspiration at this time from European expressionist artists. After the war, Colquhoun moved to London with MacBryde and they began working together on joint artistic projects.

The two artists were said to have made little attempt to disguise their relationship and their work intrigued the London art scene. Colquhoun’s early works displayed workmen and influences of a rural Scotland. His style later developed as he began mimicking the styles of Picasso, creating very dark and expressive pieces. The focus was always on their work, not the fact they were gay.

Colquhoun and McBryde © The Fleming Family. The Public Catalogue Foundation. www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/
Colquhoun and McBryde by Ian Fleming © The Fleming Family. The Public Catalogue Foundation. www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/

In the 1940s the pair became celebrated creators exhibiting all over London, with Colquhoun described as one of the leading artists of his generation. The couple boasted an extensive body of friends including Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Dylan Thomas. They were living the dream together but like Colquhoun’s paintings, their life also developed darkness.

Their renowned party lifestyle took its toll on the pair as their popularity began to dissipate in the 1950’s. Their famous friends went on to have their own successes and Colquhoun’s work in the end was that of isolated and agonised figures. The pairs love for each other was all that stood the test of time as the work dried up.

Robert Colquhoun passed away in 1962 an alcoholic and in relative obscurity. After Colquhouns death, MacBryde took off to Dublin but was tragically killed in 1966. It has taken years for people to remember these men for what they were, a great example of Scottish creativity

Exhibition Poster © National Galleries Scotland. www.nationalgalleries.org
Exhibition Poster © National Galleries Scotland. www.nationalgalleries.org

The two Roberts seemed to live a life of romantic and artistic extremes. At a time when being gay was a criminal offence, they happily offended. Their work created in the 1950s when they were penniless and forgotten remains to this day their most compelling work. Earlier this year this work finally came into focus once again and was displayed at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in a grand retrospective. Both artists work were shown side by side in very romantic displays. Their lives and their art are proof that when styles and situations change, love will always out.

About Stuart Russell

Stuart Russell
Stuart Russell BEM BCA is a broadcaster, writer and actor. He is recognised by the Queen and House of Lords for his outstanding contribution to arts in the UK. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Royal Commonwealth Society and is the only LGBTI+ person in Scotland ever nominated for space travel. Stuart is gay and loves creativity, media, positivity, nature, crystals, travel and the ocean.

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