Robert Colquhoun

The Fortune Teller


Not on display

Robert Colquhoun 1914–1962
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1264 × 806 mm, frame: 1530 × 1083 × 134 mm
Presented by Sir Colin and Lady Anderson through the Contemporary Art Society 1976

Display caption

By the mid-1940s the scottish painter Robert Colquhoun was fêted as a Neo-Romantic artist, along with John Minton, John Craxton, Robert McBryde and Michael Ayrton. These younger generation Neo-Romantics were initially regarded as followers of Graham Sutherland. However, they soon abandoned Sutherlandesque landscape painting and focused almost entirely on the subject of the human figure. Colquhoun's peculiarly expressive treatment of the figure, which owed much to his mentor the Polish artist Jankel Adler, gained critical acclaim in the immediate post-war years. Colquhoun's series of paintings depicting pairs of women have been interpreted as discreet portraits of himself and his life-long partner Robert McBryde.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘Colquhoun 46’ b.l.
Oil on canvas, 49 3/4 × 31 3/4 (126.4 × 80.7)
Presented by Sir Colin and Lady Anderson through the CAS 1976
Prov: Sir Colin Anderson, 1946
Exh: UNESCO Exhibition of Modern Painting, Paris, 1946 (British Section, works not numbered); British Painting 1925–50: First Anthology, New Burlington Galleries, May–June 1951 and Manchester City Art Gallery, June–July 1951 (11, repr.); Golden Jubilee Exhibition, 1904–54, ‘Fifty Years of British Art’, Cartwright Memorial Hall, Bradford, March–June 1954 (45); Robert Colquhoun, Whitechapel Art Gallery, March–May 1958 (38, repr.); Decade 40s, Painting, Sculpture and Drawing in Britain 1940–49, Whitechapel Art Gallery, November 1972 (76) and subsequent tour to Southampton, Carlisle, Durham, Manchester, Bradford and Aberdeen
Lit: Sir John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters. Wood to Hockney, London, 1974, p.176

According to Sir John Rothenstein (op. cit., p.180) this picture was first entitled ‘Women Talking’; however it was shown in the year it was executed at the UNESCO exhibition in Paris as ‘The Fortune Teller’. In the exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery in February 1946 among the works by Robert Colquhoun was ‘Woman with a Birdcage’ 1946 (Bradford Art Gallery), but no work with the dimensions of T02027. It seems probable that the latter painting was executed a little later than ‘Woman with a Birdcage’, the two paintings being very close in style.

Women, either singly or in pairs, were a frequent motif for Colquhoun in his paintings, drawings, monotypes and lithographs during the years 1943–6.

George Barker told the compiler (letter of 10 January 1978) that ‘The Fortune Teller’ was painted in the house in Bedford Gardens, London, where Colquhoun was living at the time. The painter was not particularly interested in cats, birdcages, birds or fortune telling and almost never discussed his paintings with anyone.’

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979

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