The Art of Sylvia Wishart RSA

Finlay & Projects Rooms, RSA Lower Galleries

Free entry


For a 360° panorama of the show click here.


Sylvia Wishart was a painter of terrific ability. Her location in Orkney and subsequent distance from her peers in the 'art world' has meant that her career has been somewhat overshadowed. However, her place in the story of Scottish painting is if the utmost importance, as a teacher, aesthete and artist of the highest calibre.
The Orkney landscape takes pride in this exhibition which concentrates on Sylvia's two Orkney homes; North House, her cottage on Hoy, renovated from a near ruin and Heatherybraes, her home on mainland Orkney, above Stromness.


Sylvia spent much of her career between Orkney and Aberdeen, where she was a lecturer in the Painting and Drawing Department at Gray's School of Art. In 1967, she took rental of North House at Rackwick, falling in love with the cottage and renovating it back to an inhabitable state. This venue becomes her home and studio and many of the works produced here are expressive oils on bare board. Paint is applied in a thick heavy impasto and pared down to the simplest, yet incredibly sophisticated, mark-making. These paintings feature Rackwick in all its glory, in all weathers and in many differing moods. Stones are formed in one brush-stroke and skies hang heavy with brooding dark slaps of paint. In the painting 'Broken Croft in Rackwick' we are invited to look into a derelict dwelling. Ravaged by the relentless Atlantic winds and salt, the building stands in an inhospitable landscape yet welcomes us into its meagre shelter.


To many, Sylvia's painting will always be connected to the views from Heatherybraes, her home in Outertown, Stromness. The vistas over Hoy Sound towards Hoy and the Scottish mainland are seen again and again in changing seasons and light. However, these paintings are not alike - crops ripen, geese leave and return, ferries and tankers mark time and movement. Inside the window frame, bowls of pears, pot-plants, vases of flowers and a ship in a bottle change places and are reflected in the foreground. There is a great revelling in the natural world and, coupled with the man-made, the mix of subject matter celebrates all that is around the artist, blurring the definition of inside and outside. In turn, this depicts both a strong interest in the glory of nature and a nod to religious enlightenment.


The works in this exhibition are but a small selection of the Sylvia Wishart retrospective 'A lamp in the seaward window, the art of Sylvia Wishart' which premiered at The Pier Art Centre during summer 2011. In drawing together a number of works for the Edinburgh exhibition, I have also included two works from the Academy's own Collection which had featured in the Orkney exhibition and deserve pride of place in the showing here in the capital. The exhibition will also include a few small key early works and a range of objects which appear in the later paintings. In addition, the RSA has also assisted to fund a new film about the artist, which will be on show for the duration of the exhibition, and a new publication about the work of Sylvia Wishart will be available.


Lastly, it has been a very great pleasure to work with Pier Arts Centre in hosting this exhibition and a personal journey of wonder to reconnect with Sylvia in this way.


Colin R Greenslade, RSA Director


**** 4 stars in Scotsman
**** 4 stars in The Times