A Tribute to James Morrison by Guy Peploe

01 Sep 2020

James Morrison RSA, RSW (1932 – 2020)

The Gallery Directors are very sorry to announce the death of Jim Morrison. Jim was a great painter and a huge part of The Scottish Gallery for more than sixty years, the last thirty under an exclusive arrangement. His kindness, generosity and loyalty made him a hugely rewarding friend, and it has been a privilege to represent one of Scotland’s most distinctive and brilliant painters. Our thoughts are with his children and wider family and in due course we shall look forward to making a full tribute to this remarkable man.

A Tribute to James Morrison by Guy Peploe
James Morrison, RSA, RSW (1932 – 2020) photographed in Angus 1981 by Robert Mabon

I first met Jim Morrison in December 1984, the month I started at The Gallery and in the era when a ‘small pictures for Christmas’ exhibition was a long established formula. Scotland’s senior painters responded dutifully and six ‘wee jems’ from Jim would always be a highlight, and along with the Alberto Morocco’s they were the first to sell out. But it was the succeeding months leading up to his 1984 Festival Exhibition which allowed me to get to know him and know his kindness to a raw recruit learning by his mistakes in the art world. This show and his next in 1988 were a huge success and led to Jim’s acceptance of an exclusive relationship with The Gallery which allowed him to resign from Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee a few years later.

A Tribute to James Morrison by Guy Peploe
James Morrison with William Jackson, Managing Director of The Scottish Gallery, c.1985

At this time we ventured into the London market, and then with the recession of 1989 beat a hasty retreat. Jim’s loyalty and forbearance in those far-off, difficult times helped us rebuild and his shows in the early nineties gave us commercial success, cementing a move to our current premises in Dundas Street and the celebration of our 150th anniversary in 1992.

Jim was never content to rest on current success and was both ambitious for his personal practice and surprisingly questioning of his own new work: it was always the next picture which mattered. He worked tirelessly, travelling to Paris, Greece, Canada, Greenland, Botswana, the Alps and many locations in the UK from Ely to Traquair.

A Tribute to James Morrison by Guy Peploe
James visited Ellesmere Island in the Arctic Archipelago in August 1994

This curiosity to see another landscape fed back into how he saw his own, familiar county, both in Angus and Assynt. His experiences in the Arctic in the early and mid-nineties and his show at The Talbot Rice Gallery where he ‘painted out’ the experiences, enriched by music and ideas of the sublime, demonstrated how much more than a Ruskinian recorder of what he saw he was. Huge, site-specific works of dark waters, bergs and glaciers made a complete installation, but also fed into the way Jim used tonal drama to capture weather events in Angus and the barren coastline and ancient mountains of Sutherland in subsequent years.

A Tribute to James Morrison by Guy Peploe
Large Berg II, 7.XI.1994, oil on board, 102 x 245 cm

Regular visits to the studio in Montrose, with lunch in the conservatory, the house filled with the family collection and a surprising number of inanimate pigs, were a great pleasure with conversation centred on art but full of laughter and football stories: the pitch at Catterline whose boulders and gradient would not have made it UEFA compliant and of course the latest reports on his beloved Clyde. Jim loved the company of other artists.

A Tribute to James Morrison by Guy Peploe
Montrose Basin at Low Tide, 1990, oil on board, 72 x 110 cm

He had been a much-loved tutor in Dundee, doing his bit to hold back the tide of arid, conceptual emphasis in the courses, keeping painting at the centre of his teaching. At the RSA he was a diligent member with no side of professional jealousy nor geographical bias.

A Tribute to James Morrison by Guy Peploe
Finally Summer, Mull, 3.VI.2011, oil on board, 97 x 152 cm

He was after all a man from Glasgow, who taught in Dundee, lived in an Aberdeen orbit and showed principally in Edinburgh. His visits down to the Gallery would revolve round a comfortable room at The George, hours in the bookshops, or Book Festival in August, tea in the Gallery and very often to purchase of a piece of applied art for Dorothy or the house.

A Tribute to James Morrison by Guy Peploe
Achnahaird, 14.V.2003, oil on board, 101.5 x 152.5 cm

Dorothy’s death in 2006 was a tremendous blow, theirs was a loving bond going back to childhood, each allowing lots of space for professional dedication but a loving space for family at its heart. But things are different for the creative: life goes on because the work must go on and with the support of family and Dorothy’s memory, the creative life was resumed through hard work.

A Tribute to James Morrison by Guy Peploe
Winter Balgove, oil on gesso on board, 73 x 147 cm

His exhibitions eventually totalled twenty-five with The Gallery, a remarkable achievement, and his work has been collected all over the world. Today new collectors discover his work and inevitably in the last few years we have begun to address his extraordinary career, looking a the Catterline years, the Arctic work, Glasgow and a part retrospective in Decades in 2017.

Jim will leave a huge hole in the Scottish Art World and will be personally missed by many, not least his dear friends at The Scottish Gallery.

Guy Peploe

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