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Irvine, Robert Scott

R. Scott Irvine, or "Otto", as he was universally known, was born in Edinburgh in 1906, educated at George Heriot's School, and trained at Edinburgh College of Art from 1922 until 1927, studying Painting under such teaching heavyweights as Henry Lintott. David Alison, David M. Sutherland, Adam Bruce Thomson and John Duncan. 

William Gillies and the "Twenty Two Group" were leaving College but much in evidence and John Maxwell was a year earlier than Otto, so good painters abounded. After his teaching qualification at Moray House, Otto embarked upon a professional career which, both by his teaching and his painting, gave much pleasure and enrichment to others.

Otto is one of Scotland's most undervalued Watercolour Painters. His influences were vast, and - in this highly specialised medium - his exemplars were possibly more English than Scottish.

He painted with strong tonal contrasts and linear edges, sometimes with a combined hint of the surrealistic whilst incorporating elements of decorative style. His work showed a liking for architectural subjects, as well as still life subjects, and, in particular, his main chosen area of endeavour, namely that of defining the Scottish Landscape in all of its glory, changing light, and weather conditions.

Watercolour became his primary medium of expression and he had the unusual distinction for those days of being elected to this Society at the early age of twenty eight, in 1934. By the time of his death in September 1988 he was the most Senior Member. Otto was enormously proud of the RSW and regarded it as a signal honour to belong to it. 

He served on various Councils, having happy memories of the Presidency of the late John Gray who with his poet brother Sir Alexander Gray was a close friend; John Gray and Otto went on many painting trips together, and another artist friend, A. Graham Munro RSW, invited Otto to paint beside him in Tetuan. Early in his career, Otto demonstrated an ability to abstract from a landscape subject and to formalise and compose. He was thoughtful and deliberate as a painter, sensitive to the intrinsic qualities of watercolour and always able to keep it vibrant and luminous. In technique he is perhaps nearer to the English mainstream than to the more expressionistic Scottish boldness - perhaps closer to the tradition of Cotman or Towne in the past or to the Nash brothers in recent times, but he is always recognisably himself, because he had integrity.

Otto's teaching career at George Watson's College lasted from 1936 until retirement in 1971, and he found no conflict between the complementary activities of teaching and painting. In the Second World War he served as a Liaison Officer in the Eighth Army, and also found time to paint some interesting wartime subjects. A warm and welcoming courtesy and a natural gregariousness made him a memorable President of the Scottish Arts Club, and he valued friendships, but his total devotion to his invalid wife Betty during the last ten years of his life caused him to put aside most social contacts and almost all his painting. 

(Biography written by Jack Firth) credit here

Arran connection

The Isle of Arran, in the firth of Clyde, was the native home of Robert Scott Irvine’s mother Mary Irvine (formerly Mary Scott). 

He spent his holidays there visiting his Grandparents small croft in Lochranza. He also had a fondness for Lamlash, Glen Sannox, and Brodick. His first Watercolour to be exhibited publicly, The Castles Of Arran was completed at the age of 16 on the Isle of Arran. He also sold Caistel Abhail to the Duchess of Montrose who then resided in Brodick Castle now owned by the National Trust Scotland. This picture had been exhibited in major exhibitions at the SSA, the RSW and The 19th Autumn Salon at the Grand Palais in Paris (alongside works by Jacob Epstein) in 1924 and 1925, respectfully. He was still an Edinburgh College of Art undergraduate, and only 18!


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