Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Random Inspiration: John MacDonald Aiken

John MacDonald Aiken
Portrait of the Artist and his Wife (1910)
oil on canvas
181 X 114.3 cm

Scotsman John MacDonald Aiken was born in Aberdeen in 1880, and remained there in the great "Grey City" for most of his life.  His training began with a six-year apprenticeship to Robert Gibb, a portraitist, painter of military scenes, and the eventual official Painter and Limner to the King of Scotland.  After his study with Gibb, Aiken attended Gray's School of Science and Art in Aberdeen, which, founded in 1885, was one of the earliest fine art institutions established in Scotland.  Perhaps seeking a more cosmopolitan education, Aiken next continued his training in London at the Royal College of Art where he studied under Gerald Moira, a muralist and one of the founding members of the National Portrait Society.  Before returning to Aberdeen to assume the Head position of Gray's, Aiken travelled to the continent, where he completed his studies in Florence.

After serving in the British military during the First World War, Aiken resettled in Scotland, and devoted himself full-time to his painting.  He exhibited regularly at the Royal Scottish Academy, the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, and at the Royal Academy, London, but it seems his most significant award came at the 1923 Paris Salon, where his portrait of Harry Townend earned Aiken the Silver Medal.  In 1937, in recognition of his work, he was elected a Royal Scottish Academician.

Aiken's early works display a decorative aesthetic which was greatly influenced by his study with Gerald Moira.  Later, aspects of his early training began to come to the forefront, but it may be his admiration for the work of his contemporary, Irishman Sir William Orpen (see Aiken's copies of two Orpen paintings below), which shaped much of his later art.

Aiken passed away in 1961, at the age of 81.

The Honourable Henrietta O'Neill, Wife of Charles Leith-Hay
oil on canvas
125 X 99 cm

Portrait of Barbara
oil on canvas
122 X 102 cm

Harry Townend (c. 1921)
oil on canvas
127.4 X 102.1 cm

This painting won the silver medal at the 1923 Paris Salon.

The Reverend W.G. Robertson, DD (1949)
oil on canvas
127.5 X 101.8 cm

William Kelly, LLD, ARSA
oil on canvas
90 X 69.5 cm

Portrait of a Man
oil on canvas
111.8 X 86.5 cm

John Lamb, Provost
oil on canvas
102 X 76.4 cm

Francis Cooper, DA, ARCA, FEIS, Principal of Dundee College of Art (1929)
oil on canvas
110 X 85 cm

Annie, Viscountess Cowdray, High Steward of Colchester
(copy after William Orpen) (c. 1920)
oil on canvas
203.2 X 104.1 cm

The Right Honourable Weetman Dickinson Pearson,
1st Viscount Cowdray PC, GCVO
(copy after William Orpen) (c. 1920)
oil on canvas
203.2 X 104.1 cm

The Seamstress (c. 1939)
oil on canvas
91.4 X 71.1 cm

Namouna (1910)
oil on canvas
76.2 X 64.8 cm

This painting takes its title from a ballet written in 1881-1882
by the French composer Edouard Lalo (1823-1892).

Lady in Black (The Artist's Wife) (c. 1917)
oil on canvas
126.6 X 95.2 cm

Charles O'Neill Leith-Hay, Aged 14 (1932)
oil on canvas
63.5 X 49.5

Sir John Phin, DL, JP, LLD, Lord Provost of Dundee (c. 1941)
oil on canvas
127 X 101.6 cm

The Chess Problem
oil on canvas
113 X 102.9 cm


James Gurney said...

Thanks, Matthew. His work is a revelation—he really captured distinct personalities. I'm intrigued by the "Portrait of a Man," the guy in the overcoat about a third of the way down the post. The handling is poster-like, with flat values, and I wonder if anyone knows whether it's a study, a finish-in-progress, or was it considered finished. To my eye one strength of all his portraits is a firm correctness and flatness of value shapes, with minor details and modeling sacrificed to big truths.

innisart said...

I'm tempted to think that "Portrait of a Man" was an unfinished work; it certainly has not been catalog or preserved as if it were a finished work of a notable sitter. However, Aiken did seem to experiment in style somewhat (see his painting "Memories" - http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/memories-106563). It would be easy to look at "Portrait of a Man" and see the influence of a muralist like Moira on the piece. Aiken also worked early in his career designing stained glass windows. The reliance on the heavy outline could come from either discipline.

"Portrait of a Man" reminded me of Walt Velez's illustrations, which I always loved, and that is why I included it, even though it was different in many respects from Aiken's other available works.