Cadell painted on small boards, which he usually completed in one session en plein air. The present painting appears to be one of his later works due to the more topographically specific view of the island and the broken brush of dryer paint, in contrast to his earlier more fluid hand. When Cadell returned to Iona after the First World War, he persuaded his friend Peploe, a fellow Scottish Colourist, to join him. The two would often sit side-by-side painting an identical view, and whilst they influenced each other, they also brought to the same subject their own different styles and personalities. From about 1920, Cadell and Peploe adopted the technique of using a white gesso ground for their paintings which absorbed the paint and allowed the artists to work quickly, but also left a dry chalky finish that enhanced the luminosity. This technique was particularly suitable for the depiction of Iona’s shimmering sunlight.
It was unusual for Cadell to include figures in his Iona paintings, but here he has placed a woman clad in a white dress which flutters in the sea-breeze and gives a beautifully animated element echoing the rolling waves in the bay beyond. Mauve, sea-greens and brilliant blues give a vibrancy to the picture and are wholly Colourist in their harmonies and contrasts. North Wind, Iona depicts the North shore, painted amongst the rocks that form the west boundary of the sands at Chalbha, where we catch a glimpse of the uninhabited island of Lunga, partly hidden by the rocky islet of Eilean Chalbha. Cadell attacked the challenge of trying to capture the sudden and dramatic changes in light and colour with great delight. He could paint the same scene on multiple occasions and each board would be unique due to the capricious weather. It was this ability to render the impression of a land or seascape at a fleeting moment that was key to his most successful Iona paintings, his skill in retaining the essence of changing colours and tones of sand and sea for long enough to commit them to a board. Here he has captured the different brooding tones of dark blue and sea green within the white capped churning sea, evoking a blustering atmosphere enhanced by off-grey clouds and the windswept dress of the figure in the foreground. The rocks on the north shore are Lewisian Gneiss, the oldest rock in Britain, and Cadell has truthfully depicted their richly coloured bands of pink, grey and green embellished with fine green-yellow veining, which again suggests that this is probably one of his mature works when everything that he had learnt was absorbed into these fresh and delightful beach scenes.
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