Tuesday, 14 August 2012
If any reader thought I might run out of forgotten Scottish printmakers any day soon, they would be wrong. Frances Blair is as about as forgotten as they come, and completely without justification. At first glance her work is straightforward faux-naif but she has an interest in form and structure that belies the apparent simplicities. Her first prints date from around 1925 and she was soon making both colour woodcut and linocut like Anna Findlay. The linocut you can see below, Cornish Cream Shop, isn't as stylish as Findlay at her best, nevertheless Blair kept stylish company and by 1929 she found herself exhibiting alongside Norbertine von Bresslern Roth and Margaret Preston at the Grosvenor Gallery in Sydney. The show was simply called 'New colour woodcuts' and if nothing else, this gives hope to readers in New Zealand and Australia because her prints do surface in both countries.
She made the move from Edinburgh down to Cornwall some time in the twenties. The brown sail, top, finds her in Ethel Kirkpatrick territory, around Penzance (you can just make out the PZ registration on the boat). Kirkpatrick was equally fond of orange sails (specially if she could set them off against mauve skies) but Blair shows a modicum of restraint and thus captures the form of both sail and boat with utter panache. Please note the seams on the sail itself, the neat combination of pattern and form. She also has French-style objectivity off to a T. These are little panoramas but she still takes on many things.
This is very much a work-in-progress on Blair. I only have a date of death - 1954, which comes from the ever-vigilant Cornwall Artists Index. She was certainly working at Mousehole by 1924. Like Kirkpatrick, she was also a watercolourist, and must have known Arabella Rankin, who also exhibited in Penzance at least once. Unlike Rankin, from what I can see, she is as much interested in the working life of ordinary people (note the earthernware cream pancheon beside the dairy-door) as she was in landscape. The Pass of Lairig (above) is in the Cairngorms in Scotland. I have a list of around a dozen prints or so. A Sussex Mill, Hen Farm, Woods o' Dee and Evening, Morar give some idea of her range but I think there is enough of her work here to suggest that she was not only aware but consistent and clever.