Overview

Elected ARSA: 21 March 1962

Elected RSA: 11 February 1970

James Cumming died peacefully on January 11th, 1991 aged 68 years at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh in the presence of his family. James Cumming was born on Christmas Eve 1922 in Dunfermline and after his schooling at Dunfermline High School he began his studies at Edinburgh College of Art.

 

These studies were interrupted by war service for five years in the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve and he trained as a pilot at the British Training School in Texas then served with Training Command in India and Burma.

 

Returning to the College of Art he resumed his studies and after a Post Graduate year was awarded a Travelling Scholarship which he spent with a crofting family in Callanish on the Island of Lewis. That experience was to form the basis of his work and imagery for many years to come.

 

Lt was fitting that a few years later he was given a retrospective exhibition by the Carnegie Trust in the town of his birth, Dunfermline. From that time onwards his paintings were to develop in new directions with interest in the electron microscope concerning the visual nature of living cells and the ancient Sumerian cuneiform alphabet resulting in paintings of an abstract hard edge nature. Gradually a balance began to assert itself introducing a series of paintings of puppets, circus, portraits, still life and space-age together with works associated with his flying war-time experience.

 

James Cumming was always an independent spirit and as a painter stood somewhat outside the main stream of Scottish 20th century painting of the expressive colourist tradition.

 

During his lifetime he made his own original contribution to Scottish art and his studious and serious researches into the chemistry of pigments and new media resulted in an impeccable craftsmanship and sensitive delight in creating paint surfaces in his work. He had two major retrospective exhibitions in recent years—The Scottish Gallery for the Festival 1985 and the other in Middlesborough 1987. These exhibitions enabled all to witness the vision and quality of this immensely gifted artists. His most recent and significant major works is the mural commissioned in 1988 by the Royal Academy in London for the Low Port Centre in Linlithgow.

 

During this time he became President of the Society of Scottish Artists (1958-61); a contributer to BBC Radio and Television Arts programmes; was awarded an International Scholarship in Humanities to Harvard and became a Member of the National Broadcasting Council as well as a Member of Council for CNAA.

 

He was by nature a communicator and capable of stimulating his audience to an extraordinary degree. As a lecturer and teacher he could be inspiring and was much respected and sought after until his retirement in 1982 when he left Edinburgh to live and paint in the Scottish border village of Lennel near Coldstream.

 

James Cumming was elected to the Academy as an Associate in 1962 and that same year was elected a member of the RSW. He became a full Academician in 1970 and three years later  was elected Treasurer and subsequently Secretary in 1978.

 

During those years he served the Academy’s best interests with his usual total enthusiasm in all that was required of him. He lectured with the Arts Council and Edinburgh University together with writing film and radio scripts including that of the film ‘Three Scottish Painters’.

 

He was much involved with the RSA Festival Exhibitions and was particularly responsible for the general organising of the Academy’s 150th Anniversary Exhibition in 1976 together with the translation of a new coat of arms into a modern idiom for the RSA. In 1986 he was elected Custodian of the Academy Collections and naturally brought to this task all of his extraordinary zeal and commitment.

 

He served the Academy most nobly in all respects as a distinguished painter member and as a diligent and assiduous Treasurer and Secretary.

 

James Cumming was larger than life character; witty, generous, sympathetic, compassionate possessing a great warmth of friendship and above all an irrepressible sense of humour. He was much loved and will be solely missed by all who knew him, past students, colleagues and friends alike. Indeed many of us will remember him forever.

 

He is survived by his wife Betty, his son Timothy and daughter Laura to whom he was completely devoted.

 

RSA Obituary by W.J.L. Baillie, transcribed from 1991 RSA Annual Report

Further Images

James William Hunter Cumming RSA (1922-91), Table Assembly with Rusted Tins

oil on canvas, around 1976, 91.9 x 122.0cm 

RSA Diploma Collection Deposit, 1976. 2000.055