Craigie Aitchison 1926-2009


Private Collection, Florence
Private Collection, UK


1971, London, Basil Jacobs Fine Art, Craigie Aitchison, 20 Oct. - 9 Nov. 1971, cat. no. 13
2019, London, Piano Nobile, Craigie Aitchison and the Beaux Arts Generation, 14 Nov. 2019 - 29 Jan. 2020, cat. no. 18


Andrew Lambirth, Craigie Aitchison: Out of the Ordinary, 2003, Royal Academy of Arts, p. 12, fig. 6 (col. illus.)
Cate Haste, Craigie Aitchison: A Life in Colour, 2014, Lund Humphries, p. 97, pl. 82 (col. illus.)
Susan Campbell, Craigie Aitchison and the Beaux Arts Generation, 2019, Piano Nobile Publications, cat. no. 18, pp. 76-77 (col. illus.)
Aitchison’s career was spent making self-critical revisions to his pictures, at all times searching for the ‘right’ composition. As he said in his X magazine text, ‘I just want to get it right, I have no idea what right is until I get it that way, then I know like a flash’. In Pear Still-life, a number of collaged elements were included at one stage of its evolution: a constellation of four five-point stars crossed the sky, a bird flitted in the branches of the tree, and an elaborate yellow rose nestled with the pear and the lemon (fig. WHAT). These were later removed, presumably on the basis that they were not ‘right’. Aitchison occasionally revised paintings after they left the studio, as was the case with Pear Still-life.

The painting’s composition suggests the artist’s working process. Aitchison treated the canvas as a field in which to arrange and rearrange any number of elements, placing, removing, re-placing and removing again his choice of objects, much as he used to rearrange the family home in Edinburgh as a boy. He explained later, ‘When I’m painting, all I do is alter. I can’t get started until I’ve got the turps to rub it out.’ Pear Still-life suggests his growing confidence, with a greater number of elements in play than in earlier still lifes. The pear, lemon, berries and tree each hold a place in the wide expanse of the picture surface, placed there with consideration and subject to revision should a more visually resounding configuration become apparent. He once remarked, ‘It’s like a jigsaw puzzle… You move everything about until you get it right.’

Aitchison also understood how little was required to make a mark look like something else. The representational charge of the picture space allowed him to use the most elementary combinations of colour and shape, and still suggest the presence of his subject. In some cases he left the planes of colour unresolved and in Pear Still-life, a suggestive sequence of jagged pink zig-zags provides a foil to the conventional still-life content in the work. A common trope of his work from the early 1970s, these bolts of ambiguous colour are from a period when Aitchison gave careful thought to the limits of representation.

Pears were a recurrent subject in his still-life work and an earlier painting of the same title was exhibited in Aitchison’s 1964 solo exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery.