Stanley Cursiter

Apple green

Oil on canvas: 40(h) x 50(w) in /

101.6(h) x 127(w) cm

Signed and dated lower left: Stanley Cursiter 1925

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BT 176



 Kirkwall, Orkney Isles 1887 – 1976 Stromness, Orkney Isles


Apple Green


Signed and dated lower left: Stanley Cursiter 1925

Oil on canvas: 40 x 50 in / 101.6 x 127 cm

Frame size: 47 x 57 in / 119.4 x 144.8 cm



Aitken Dott & Son, Edinburgh

Private collection, in the late 1920s, then by descent



London, The Royal Academy of Arts, Summer Exhibition, 1925, no.183

Bristol, 1925

Glasgow, The Royal Institute of The Fine Arts, 1926, no.287

Edinburgh, The Royal Scottish Academy, 1929, no.250



The Bystander, ‘Royal Academy Pictures 1925’, 6th May 1925, p.378

The Scotsman, ‘Scottish Art: Glasgow Exhibition: Variety of Vision’, 5th October 1926, p.8

The Scotsman, ‘Royal Scottish Academy, 103rd Exhibition: Decorative Paintings’, 19th April 1929, p.8

The Scotsman, ‘The R.S.A. Exhibition: Further Pictures’, 20th April 1929, illustrated p.20

The Scotsman, ‘Royal Scottish Academy: Presentation Portraits: Interiors with Figures’, 21st May 1929, p.6



‘The outstanding features of the art of Mr Stanley Cursiter are its vitality and sincerity.’[1] Though written four years before the present work was first exhibited, Mr Eddington’s article on ‘The Paintings and Lithographs of Stanley Cursiter’ in The Studio feels entirely contemporary and shows great prescience on the part of the author. Eddington credited Cursiter’s training at a firm of lithographic printers for his meticulous preparation and fine draughtsmanship, during which he ‘…acquired a good knowledge of the technical side of painting and the effect of the judicious arrangement of masses of pure colour.’ He continues: ‘His colour sense is acute, and there is a gracefulness of pose and refinement of treatment that satisfies the aesthetic sense…It is this fundamental quality of truth to nature, combined with a discriminating sense of the beauty of line, a capacity to produce the effect of light on colour as it plays on a variety of objects of different texture, and an efficient technique, that makes Mr Cursiter’s work so successful and so full of promise for the future.’ [2]


As crisp and fresh as the eponymous apple, this expertly arranged and highly detailed interior is the realisation of Eddington’s hope, a masterpiece of compositional design, colour harmony and above-all ‘incontestably vital’.[3] Painted at the height of his powers during a period of critical and commercial success, Apple Green represents the culmination of Cursiter’s single-figure portraits, still life subjects and elaborate conversation pieces. Wearing a pristine white dress, Poppy Low stands at the heart of the interior in three-quarters profile holding a jug with a still life behind her, replicating the reverse image of Cursiter’s Girl with a jug, 1921 (Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow).[4] Works such as this, Black, white and silver, 1921 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and Dolce far Niente, 1921 (Paisley Museum and Art Galleries) inspired the Edinburgh art dealer, Aitken Dott, to commission the artist to paint ‘twenty pictures of pretty girls in pretty frocks arranging flowers…’ which Cursiter completed in 1923 for £400 and a period of financial security which enabled his return in 1924-5 to the conversation piece. Depicting Poppy and the artist’s sister Margaret, House of Cards, 1924 (Orkney Museum), is another complex interior demonstrating the Eastern influence of the aesthetic movement, seen in the present work in the inclusion of a golden statue of Buddha.[5] Several still life elements feature in both paintings; an arrangement of tulips enters the canvas at the bottom left corner of House of Cards, the vase hidden from view, while a bowl of fruit in an elegant porcelain stand, reminiscent of Samuel John Peploe’s still lifes, is central to each.[6]


Though the lustrous sheen of the bright apples are indeed a focal point of the present work, the colour notes of this enticing arrangement are struck by the porcelain jug of tulips whose fragmented representation recall Cursiter’s radical Futurist phase, in works such as The Sensation of Crossing the Street, the West End, Edinburgh (private collection) and Rain on Princess Street (Dundee City Art Gallery) both dated 1913. Having seen Roger Fry’s second Post-Impressionist exhibition in London the year before, Cursiter arranged the loan of some of its works to the Scottish Society’s Annual exhibition of 1913 in Edinburgh, which included paintings by Gauguin, Cezanne, Severini and Boccioni. The influence of Cezanne, perhaps via Peploe, can also be seen in the faceted, slightly geometric modelling of the fruit.


Having been made Keeper of the Scottish National Galleries and awarded Directorship of the National Portrait Gallery soon after, 1925 was the last time Cursiter exhibited as a full time painter. Recently rediscovered from a private collection, Apple Green is one of artist’s most important exhibition pieces, shown at both Royal Academies in London and Edinburgh, as well as the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts. Hailed in London as ‘…a tour de force in the painting of reflections’[7] and in Scotland for ‘…the serene and harmonious familiarity which envelops this fresh and attractive picture. Drawn and painted with clarity and decision, the finely characterised head and figure hold their own quietly in the elaborate but well co-ordinated ensemble, and the whole has an intimacy scarcely equalled by any portrait shown.’[8]Also painted in 1925, Chez Nous (Fig. 1, Scottish National Portrait Gallery) seems to represent night to Apple Green’s day, its slightly elongated canvas offering a view of the opposite wall of the studio/drawing room, on to a street scene of Royal Circus by lamplight. Of the same scale and ambition, as elaborate and detailed as a conversation piece, Apple Green has greater precision and poise, the high north facing windows of the studio and reflective expanse of mirror lending it the radiance of a watercolour.



Stanley Cursiter (1887–1976), Chez nous (Self-portrait with his Wife Phyllis Eda Hourston and his Model Poppy Low), 1925 Oil on canvas: 101.3 x 152.5 cm

National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish National Portrait Gallery
















Kirkwall, Orkney Isles 1887 – 1976 Stromness, Orkney Isles


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.


[1] A Eddington, ‘The Paintings and Lithographs of Stanley Cursiter’, The Studio, vol.82, no.340, pp.21-25.

[2] A Eddington, ibid..

[3] Ibid. Perhaps in gratitude for this glowing review, Cursiter places a pile of green covered magazines, issues of The Studio, in the immediate foreground and their reflection at the centre of the composition.

[4] A pencil sketch in a sketchbook of watercolours amongst the artist’s papers at Orkney Library & Archive, Kirkwall, shows the rough outline of Poppy holding a similar pose in a seated position. We are grateful to Yvonne Nicoll, Archive Assistant, for this information.

[5]A favourite motif in still-life paintings of the time including works by FCB Cadell, The Buddha (Black and Gold), c 1929 (private collection), JD Fergusson, The Japanese Statuette (The Fergusson Gallery, Perth) and William Nicholson, Statuettes and Rodin Bronze, 1907, (private collection).

[6] Cursiter wrote a tribute to Peploe, An Intimate Memoir of an Artist and of his Work, in 1947.

[7] The Bystander, ‘Royal Academy Pictures 1925’, 6th May 1925, p.378.

[8] The Scotsman, ‘Royal Scottish Academy: Presentation Portraits: Interiors with Figures’, 21st May 1929, p.6.


Modern BritishStanley Cursiter