A Scottish painter of figure subjects and landscapes, Stanley Cursiter had a distinguished career, culminating in 1948 with his appointment as ‘His Majesty’s Painter and Limner in Scotland’ and the award of CBE. Born in Kirkwall, Cursiter moved to Edinburgh around 1905, where he was apprenticed as a designer to a firm of printers, McLagan and Cummings. During this period he studied five nights a week at the Edinburgh College of Art. After refusing a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London, he became a full-time student at Edinburgh. Cursiter’s first exhibition was in Kirkwall in 1910, the year in which he met his future wife, Phyllis Hourston. Between 1914 and 1918 he served in the First World War in France, and although he still managed to paint, it was not until 1920 that he completely resumed his career, setting up a studio in Edinburgh.
The versatility of Cursiter’s artistic talent resulted in several different styles. His early works were mostly Symbolist pictures, conversation pieces and conventional lithographs. He chose however, to concentrate on conversation pieces and in 1920 recalled how the Edinburgh gallery ‘Messrs Aitken Dott commissioned me to paint twenty pictures of pretty girls in pretty frocks, arranging flowers, leaning against a piano or gracing some similar pictorial theme’. Cursiter was elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1927, a full member in 1937, and President of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours from 1951-2.
Cursiter combined the skills of a talented artist and an excellent administrator. From 1924-30, he was Keeper of the National Galleries of Scotland and in 1930 succeeded Sir James Caw as Director, a position he held until 1948, when he resigned in order to devote more time to painting. He also found time to publish two books, Peploe, 1947, and Scottish Art, 1949. As fellow RSA DM Sutherland commented: ‘Stanley Cursiter…had more than a little of the Renaissance man about him…architecture, perspective, geology, agriculture, economy, printing processes, radio, the chemistry of picture restoration, art history and of course painting [were all within his expertise]’ (Stanley Cursiter Centenary Exhibition, catalogue, Stromness, 1987, p.9). Cursiter died in Stromness, Orkney in 1976.
The work of Stanley Cursiter is represented in the British Royal Collection; the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow; the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; the Royal Scottish Academy Diploma Collection and the Orkney Library and Archive.