Anne Redpath had a passion for painting throughout her life but it was only when free from the responsibilities of early marriage and motherhood that her career was able to flourish. Born in Galashiels, Scotland, Redpath was the daughter of a textile designer. She studied at Edinburgh School of Art from 1913-1917 and briefly exhibited with the Edinburgh Group before moving to France in 1920 to live with her husband. While she never gave up painting during this period, her output was greatly diminished in devoting her time to her young family. Only on her return to Scotland in 1934, with her children in school and the need for extra income, did Redpath enthusiastically renew her commitment to painting. The 1940s and 1950s were her most productive period, and in 1951 she was the first female painter to be elected R.S.A. Her prestigious reputation in the Edinburgh art scene was acknowledged when the Arts Council and The Scotsman invited her to lecture and write on their behalf. In May 1950, an article in Vogue magazine described her 'as a social centre for Edinburgh's art world'. In 1955, Redpath suffered a coronary thrombosis from which she never truly recovered, reducing the output of her work until her death in 1965.
In the knowledge of such an accomplished life, the plain but challenging woman who inhabits the present work is surprising. In this early self-portrait (c. 1940), her simple attire and unassuming expression belie the artistic achievements and recognition that were to come in her life. However, the modest nature indicated in the painting resonates with herself as a devoted mother first and foremost. She once remarked: 'Young woman often come up to me and say, "I am going to be like you and give up everything for painting", but that's not how I see it at all. I could never have sacrificed my family to painting, and I don't think anyone else should either...' (Terence Mullaly, Anne Redpath Memorial Exhibition catalogue, The Arts Council of Great Britain Scottish Committee, 1965, p. 7).
In Self-Portrait, Redpath pays greater detail to her face in contrast to the looser brushwork of the background. The simple interior and her clothes, painted in strong, flat colours within articulated lines exhibit her knowledge and admiration of Matisse. Inspired by Matisse's philosophy that a painting need not be inhibited by the reality of the subject, Redpath's paintings are emotive and experimental. An intriguingly complex character - subtly evoked in the present work - her sensual paintings and relentless stylistic development distinguished Redpath as one of Scotland's leading twentieth century painters.
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