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Craigie Aitchison - Bird-vase still life on blue
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Craigie Aitchison

Bird-vase still life on blue

Oil on board: 25.7 x 8.5 (in) / 65.4 x 21.6 (cm)

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Edinburgh 1926 - 2009 London

Ref: CB 156


Bird-vase still life on blue


Oil on board: 25 ¾ x 8 ½ in / 65.4 x 21.6 cm

Frame size: 28 x 11 in / 71 x 27.9 cm


Painted in the 1960s




Marlborough Fine Art, London

Private collection, acquired from the above circa 1969, then by descent

Sotheby’s London, 11th May 2012, lot 183;

Robin & Rupert Hambro, London



Craigie Aitchison’s Bird-vase still life on blue is a vibrant and striking upright image, the bright, delicate flowers and pale grey vase bounded by intense fields of blue which describe their surroundings. Aitchison was greatly influenced by the vivid colours and stylized simplicity of early Italian painting, which he first witnessed on a travelling scholarship in 1955 and continued to be inspired by throughout his career. The luminous vase with carefully defined bird and branch decoration (the light, soft feathers of the bird’s tail lifting clear of the vase to the right), is very similar to the vessel in Aitchison’s Lily still-life, 1974, at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which came from the artist’s own collection. Aitchison often selected his still life subjects from the everyday objects which filled his home at 32 St Mary’s Gardens, Kennington, as Cate Haste writes: ‘the religious artefacts, vases, bits of kitsch and bric-a-brac which had caught his attention in antique shops and flea markets or arrived as presents from friends. He painted from observation, selecting the detail, editing and amending to arrive at the essence of the subject. The works show his delight in shapes and the combinations and possibilities of colour. With clarity and originality he transformed the everyday objects into something beautiful, poetic in their simplicity and often extraordinarily evocative’ (Cate Haste, Craigie Aitchison: A Life in Colour, Lund Humphries, London 2014, pp.80-81). The artist moved to London from Scotland with his mother, Lady Aitchison, in 1962, from then on dividing his time between Kennington and Montecastelli, near Sienna, Italy; their London home an extraordinary combination of his mother’s eighteenth-century French furniture and his own eccentric taste.


Craigie Aitchison was born in 1926 in Kincardie-on-Forth in Scotland.  The son of a prominent socialist lawyer who became Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland, Aitchison first studied History at Edinburgh University in 1944-46, then Law at Middle Temple in London in 1948, before attending the Slade School of Fine Art from 1952-54, where he was taught by William Coldstream (1908-1987) and became friends with fellow student Euan Uglow (1932-2000).  In 1953 he was awarded the annual Slade School Prize for best still life and in 1955 he won a British Council Italian Government Scholarship for painting and travelled to Italy, which was to leave a lasting impression on his work.  Aitchison was also awarded the Edwin Austin Premier Scholarship for Painting in 1970.  In 1974 he was a prize winner at the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition and in 1994 he won the Jerwood Prize. 


Aitchison held his first solo exhibition in 1959 at the Beaux Arts Gallery, London.  There have been several major retrospectives of his work at the Serpentine Gallery, London, 1981, Harewood House, Leeds, 1994, the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, 1996 and the Royal Academy of Art, London, 2003.  He was elected an Associate Royal Academician in 1978 and a full RA in 1988.   In 1999 he was appointed a CBE.



Lily still-life, 1974                                    Grey vase: Still life, 1965                          Still life, 1975

Scottish National Gallery                     Arts Council Collection                        Government Art Collection

of Modern Art




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