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‘The Killings on Kingfisher Hill’ bv Sophie Hannah: the new Hercule Poirot mystery

It was one hundred years ago when Agatha Christie introduced the now legendary Belgian detective in her first crime novel,“The Mysterious Affair at Styles.” 

‘Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible’. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, (1920)

Pan paperback edition of the first Poirot novel, 1920

There are 13 chapters with enticing titles: Poirot Investigates, Fresh Suspicions, The Night of the Tragedy, Poirot Explains.

This popular, iconic character went on to star in 33 novels, two plays and more than fifty short stories.  “My Belgian invention was hanging around my neck, firmly attached there like the old man of the sea.”  Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Agatha Christie and her collection of crime novels

Poirot’s final case, which brings him back full circle to Styles, was written during World War II as a gift for her daughter, but kept in a safe for over thirty years until “Curtain” was finally published in 1975.

Curtain, by Agatha Christie, first UK edition, 1975

The news of Poirot’s death in the novel was commemorated in an obituary in The New York Times, the only fictional character to have received such an honour.

The Hercule Poirot mysteries have been adapted with great success the cinema and television screen, portrayed by many actors from Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov to David Suchet and Kenneth Branagh, with their own personalised manner, mode ……and moustache.

The portrayal of Hercule Poirot over the past century

It was therefore a most inspired decision of the Agatha Christie Estate to resurrect the Belgian detective and authorise Sophie Hannah to write a exciting new Continuation novel.

Sophie Hannah is a massive fan of Agatha Christie’s crime fiction, having first read “The Body in the Library” aged 12. She is an international best selling writer of psychological thrillers, winning numerous awards. Sophie created a Masters Degree course in crime writing at Cambridge University, where she is a fellow of Lucy Cavendish College.

Agatha Christie is the greatest crime writer of all time and it is a huge, huge honour for me to be the person chosen to do this.” Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah with Mathew Pritchard, grandson of Agatha Christie

Sophie presented a detailed 100-page outline for a Poirot-esque detective novel to the publishers and Christie estate, which was approved. ‘The Monogram Murders’ (2014) was the first of her four novels in this new series.

Celebrating 100 years since Poirot solved the mystery at Styles, he sets off once again to investigate a new case, “The Killings at Kingfisher Hill”. 

It is ten minutes before two on the afternoon of 22nd February, 1931. That was when the strangeness started,”  begins the first person narration by Inspector Edward Catchpool who is accompanying Hercule Poirot to Little Key, a mansion on the Kingfisher Estate, Surrey.  

Richard Devonport has summoned Poirot to prove the innocence of his fiancée, Helen who faces the death penalty for the murder of his brother, Frank. A clever ploy by Hannah to retain authenticity, is that the plotline of an allegedly innocent person being accused of murder was used by Christie several times: Ordeal by Innocence, Towards Zero, Mrs McGinty’s Dead, The ABC Murders, Five Little Pigs and also the play, Witness for the Prosecution.

Curiously, the rest of the Devonport family cannot know the real reason for the visit and they will pose as enthusiasts of a board game, Peepers, created by Richard’s father, Sidney, as a rival to Monopoly.

The journey by coach from London to Kingfisher Hill is not without incident: unfortunately, it takes almost 100 pages to describe a series of incidents, a damsel in distresss, lunch, a minor emergency and missing passengers before they arrive at the Devonport home. Yes, a couple of these characters will make a later appearance, but this is a convoluted start before cracking on with the heart of the mystery.

It’s the classic Country House setting where the murder took place on 6th December, 1930.   “At twenty minutes to six, Frank Devonport fell to his death from the landing. He’d been pushed from the balcony. Fell and cracked his head open on the hard floor beneath.”

If it’s not Helen Acton as Richard believes, who is guilty of the crime? There were seven other people there at the time – Sidney, his wife Lilian, their daughter Daisy, her fiancé Oliver Prowd, two family friends, Godfrey and Verna Lavliolette, and the servant Winnifred.

Like Sherlock’s Watson, Hannah’s new creation, Inspector Catchpool is an assistant sleuth like a blend of the amiable Hastings and the solid but slow, Chief Inspector Japp. Poirot likes to challenge his friend, asking for a list of questions on the case, to test a methodical mind.  “Precisely, Catchpool, you have hit on the head the nail!… it proceeds most satisfactorily, the training of your brain.” 

The title of the novel is, of course, ‘Killings’ in the plural and so far, just one. But then the shocking discovery of a body of an unidentified woman, bludgeoned to death with a poker in the drawing room at the Devonport home.  The Cluedo style setting is reminiscent of Christie’s classic, The Body in the Library, in which an unknown blonde girl is found at Gossington Hall, home of Colonel and Mrs. Arthur Bantry.

Certain members of the rather dysfunctional Devonport family are unreliable witnesses due to their eccentric behaviour. There is one marvellous character, Hester Semley, “a small bony, bespectacled woman with thick, coiled springs of white hair,” whose dagger-sharp intellect even throws Poirot on the back foot. A Miss Marple with feisty attitude!.

This is a twisting, turning maze of a plot like a complex jigsaw puzzle, where, it seems, half a dozen pieces are missing, until of course, Poirot uncovers the truth in the final flourish of a denouement.  

You can expect the narrative structure, language, period style and social manner of an Agatha Christie novel, not least the impeccable personality, wit and wisdom of Hercule Poirot.

“I regard every word Agatha Christie ever wrote almost as a holy text, so I’m not going to be taking any liberties,” Sophie Hannah. “

Set in 1931, this is vintage detective fiction but not old fashioned. Crime, past and present, is a moral matter, understanding human nature, jealousy, deceit, the psychology of good and evil.  The classic detective story is a world of theatricality and illusion.

So no wonder Christie’s murder mysteries adapt so well from page to stage and screen.  David Suchet is legendary in the role of Hercule Poirot which he played in 70 episodes of ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot series over twenty five years.

David Suchet and Hugh Fraser as Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings

The highly acclaimed series adapted all of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories featuring Poirot between 1989 and 2013 and continue to be repeated on a regular basis.

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot in ITV series

The enduring appeal for Hercule Poirot has no sign of slowing down. Following the masterly remake “Murder on the Orient Express” directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, his next Agatha Christie movie is “Death on the Nile,”  to be released in 2021.

The two new Poirot films directed and starring Kenneth Branagh

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah – the new Hercule Poirot Mystery is published by Harper Collins.

The previous titles in the Continuation series of Poirot mysteries are “The Monogram Murders”, “Closed Casket” and “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

The Continuation series by Sophie Hannah

The quietly composed Landscapes, Flowers and Still Life by Joan Renton, RSW, on show at the Grilli Gallery, Edinburgh

Joan Renton was born in 1935 and studied at the Edinburgh College of Art where she was taught by three exemplary Scottish artists, William Gillies, John Maxwell and Robin Philipson. After a travelling scholarship to Spain in 1959, she was a teacher before becoming a full time artist.  The recipient of several Awards, Joan was elected to the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour in 1974.

This charming exhibition of landscapes, botanical studies and Still Life paintings illustrates the diverse range of subjects and artistic styles which inspire Ms Renton. 

Towards Mull

Travelling to the wild and wonderful Hebridean Islands off the west coast of Scotland has always been her stomping ground, sketch pad in hand, no doubt. With a photographic eye combined with impressionistic creativity, “Towards Mull” is a majestic panoramic scene.  The viewer feels they are standing on the sandy beach looking out across the bay to the shimmer of shapely hills beyond.  

While this clearly evokes a realistic ambience, the blending of soft shades, and curving contours of land and sea, creates a misty mood.

 ‘Although my paintings have their origins in nature, the influences of light and atmosphere are more important to me than realistic representation.’  Joan Renton

Tragh-Mhor, Tiree

This semi-abstract technique is also shown in “Traigh-Mhor, Tiree,” which is most atmospheric: the curving trail in the sand leads the eye between the rocks to the lapping waves, a fleck of white horses and the distant islets. The pinky grey sky of scudding clouds evoke a tangible feeling of a chilly, salt sea breeze in the air on this blustery day. 

A most enchanting winter scene is conjured up in “Little Tree,” in which the black, bare, skeletal branches spread across the canvas like a spider’s web.

Little Tree

The bold, imaginative pattern in the foreground reveals a tapestry of the snow-covered fields and rolling heather hills behind. This striking viewpoint would be a magical illustration for a Christmas Card.

The world of nature is captured both outdoors and at home. Here are several botanical paintings such as “Jug of Flowers,” a finely crafted, colourful display with such detail in the leaves, stamens, buds and petals.

Jug of Flowers

And with a more expressionistic style, a swimming swirl of translucent green, blue and amber tones in the watercolour, “Sunlit Summer.”

Sunlit Summer

Edouard Manet described Still Life as “the touchstone of painting,” which tests the skill of an artist to paint household objects, fruit, flowers, jugs, glassware and textiles. “Grey Still Life,” is a quiet, cool composition to illustrate the contrasting texture of a seaside shell, garden pears and flowers on the olive-green cloth.

Grey Still Life

The renowned artist Anne Redpath, OBE (1895–1965), devised her own iconic style of two dimensional Still Life scenes and domestic interiors.  Following in her brushstrokes, Joan Renton is also a master of the genre with such a delicate, elegant and decorative design.

The moment I stop learning and exploring new avenues,  I shall give up and spend all my time in the garden.” Joan Renton

Now in her 85th year, this celebratory exhibition proves that Joan Renton is still very much in her prime and unlikely to exchange her paint brush for a trowel anytime soon.

THE GRILLI GALLERY, 20A Dundas Street, Edinburgh, EH3 6HZ  

Joan Renton – A solo exhibition of paintings

31st October to 29th November, 2020

Mon, Tues, Thurs & Fri 11.00am to 4.00pm,

Viewing by appointment: Tel. 0131 261 4264; mobile 07876 013 013

Browse the gallery of images on line:

Poppies and Silver Jug

‘this divine quiet’ – Helen Booth: a painterly meditation on the bleak, serene beauty of Iceland, @ &Gallery, Edinburgh

This is the first solo exhibition by the British artist, Helen Booth to be held in Scotland, and features over 25 artworks inspired by a recent residency in Iceland. She has exhibited widely across the UK, Europe and USA, and in 2019, she received two prestigious accolades in New York – a Pollock Krasner award for painting and an Adolf and Esther Gottlieb Prize for Abstract Painting.

Iceland is known as ‘The Land of Fire and Ice’ due to its ancient topography of giant glaciers, waterfalls, hot springs and fiery volcanoes, a wild, desolate terrain, sculptured through climate and time.

‘this divine quiet’ – Icelandic landscapes by Helen Booth at &Gallery

“Standing in a divine landscape has reinforced my personal belief that Nature is the most powerful force and that trying to capture the essence of Nature in its purist form is what is important to me as an artist.”  Helen Booth

Feel the chill air in Abstract Landscape, 4, as soft snow flutters in icy dribbles from a billowing thick cloud stretching to the lost, hazy horizon.

Abstract Landscape 4, Helen Booth

Again with atmospheric realism, Abstract Landscape 7, is a swirling, whirling whiteout around the looming mass of a glacial mountain.

Abstract Landscape 7, Helen Booth

This raw, rugged environment is a pale palette of milky-white, cream, pink and blue-greys; the cool, crisp winter light glistens with an ethereal quality etched into frozen lakes and snow-smothered rocky peaks.

Abstract landscape 6, Helen Booth

Many of these landscapes are pared down to the one essential element – water; the flow and fluidity of melting glaciers in a stream of drips as in Falling Water, with monochrome minimalism.

Falling Water, Helen Booth

Also with abstract purity, a flourish of translucent spots and dots depicts the vision of glimmering icicles and a blizzard of drifting snowflakes in Frozen Water.

Frozen Water, Helen Booth

This seemingly simple, subtle technique is so imaginative, such as in I Think About You All The Time with its sparkling glow like Tinkerbelle fairy lights and stars in the night sky. (This stunning image would be perfect for a Christmas card or fabric design).

I think about you all the time, Helen Booth

The use of symbolic markings is also most effective in the delicate, pointillist pattern of Silent Fall of Snow. Magical, mesmerising, meditative.

Silent Fall of Snow, Helen Booth

The title, ‘this divine quiet’, comes from a memoir by Christiane Ritter, “A Woman in the Polar Night,” about surviving life in the Arctic wilderness. Likewise, with poetic, painterly eloquence Helen Booth captures the bleak, majestic natural beauty of Iceland with a tangible, serene sense of place.

Abstract Landscape 2, Helen Booth

 “Abstract Art is always rooted in experience of the real world .. .. and provides an emotional satisfaction similar to that of landscape. ”  Pepe Karmel (Abstract Art, a Global History, Thames & Hudson).

this divine quiet – Helen Booth

&Gallery, 3 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, EH3 6QG

Current opening times:

Tuesday to Friday 11am – 5pm; Saturday 11am – 4pm & by appointment.  Tel. 0131 467 0618

The exhibition is beautifully complemented by floral displays of Birch Tree branches and ice-dried, white Amaranthus blossom, created by ‘Flowers by Minty’, Abbeyhill, Edinburgh

Abstract Landscape 5, Helen Booth

“Ethereal Silence:” Paintings of Edinburgh through the seasons by Jamie Primrose @ Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh

Edinburgh isn’t so much a city, more a way of life… I doubt I’ll ever tire of exploring Edinburgh, on foot or in print.” Ian Rankin

Jamie Primrose is sure to agree with this sentiment, as he is unlikely to stop exploring  Edinburgh on foot or in oil paint. 

Springtime in Edinburgh, 2020 was rather a different city than usual. Like all of us, isolated at home, the artist Jamie Primrose was unable to visit his studio to work.  But he could get out and about to observe, photograph and sketch his favourite places and picturesque scenes at a time of complete solitude and tranquillity.

Sunrise from Arthur’s Seat, Jamie Primrose

This collection of over fifty original oil paintings, aptly entitled “Ethereal Silence,” is based on his wanderings around the city this year, celebrating Edinburgh through the seasons.

Follow in Jamie’s footsteps on those daily walks during lockdown around his local neighbourhood, Marchmont, and across the wide open space of the Meadows, flourishing in pink blossom.  The magical effect of shadows cast by the sun through the trees is captured so well in such works as “Hazy Afternoon Light in The Meadows” and “Spring light on Jawbone Walk.”

Hazy Afternoon Light in The Meadows, Jamie Primrose

At different times of the day and evening he would trek around the craggy landscape of Arthur Seat, and to the top of Calton Hill for a panoramic view across the city of spires.  Explorations on foot too around the Old Town, such as the charming curve of Victoria Street,  and a stroll through Princes Street Gardens in the summer sun.  Primrose’s favourite places now transformed into works of art.

Winter Lights looking up Victoria Street, Jamie Primrose

Jamie Primrose is a master at depicting the shimmering soft glow of dawn light as captured in a series of paintings such as “Sunrise from Arthur’s Seat,

Sunrise from Arthur’s Seat, Jamie Primrose

and at the end of the day, experience the coral pink and mauve tinted clouds in “Sunset Skyline over Edinburgh.”

Sunset Skyline over Edinburgh, Jamie Primrose

 Not quite sure of the meteorological term for a mackerel sky, but the distinctive cloud patterns in many cityscapes brilliantly reflect a sense of movement and atmosphere.

 Most impressive is “Sunrise over Edinburgh Castle,” a moment in time to catch the golden glimmer of a new blue sky day. It illustrates perfectly the poetic description of the Castle:

“.. this gigantic rock lifts itself above all that surrounds it, and breaks upon the sky with the same commanding blackness of mingled crags, cliffs, buttresses, and battlements.” J. K. Lockhart.

Sunrise over Edinburgh Castle, Jamie Primrose

On this painterly journey through the year, you can almost feel the shift in temperature too, by the clarity of light and brightness of Summer sun to the icy grey chill in “Winter Morning looking down Middle Meadow Walk.”

Winter Morning Middle Meadow Walk, Jamie Primrose

These are just a few key highlights from this captivating and finely composed collection. The exhibition is at the Dundas Street Gallery but if you are unable to visit, you can view the online gallery and take a video tour of the show. 

Limited Edition Prints:
In addition to these new original paintings, there are framed limited edition prints of The Meadows, Old Town scenes and city skylines. Also available, East Lothian and West Coast seascapes, atmospheric vistas of Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Venice, & South of France.

Jamie Primrose: ‘Ethereal Silence’
Thursday 5th – Saturday 14th November 2020

Open Monday to Friday, 11am to 6pm by appointment

To book your appointment contact: Mari Primrose

Saturday – walk in visits from 12 noon – 5pm

The Dundas Street Gallery
6a Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ

View the works on the website:

Video tour of the gallery:

Sunset over the City from Arthur’s Seat, Jamie Primrose

Florilegium: a Gathering of Flowers – a flourishing showcase of colourful, multi-cultural artwork at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

A Florilegium is a book of flowers. It is commonly a group of botanical paintings depicting a particular collection. Florilegium: A Gathering of Flowers is a vitally important exhibition of botanical illustrations depicting rare and endangered plants found in the glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.  

Founded 350 years ago, with a collection of 13,500 international species, its mission is “To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future.

RGBE – 350 years of collecting exotic plants

“Florilegium: A Gathering of Flowers” aso neatly links to the heritage of the historic garden. One of the earliest books recording scientific drawings of plants was Robert Sibbald’s Scotia Illustrata in 1684. Sibbald was the first professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh and a founder of RBGE.

Last year, an invitation was sent out to Botanical illustrators around the world to submit drawings of plants from the RBGE Living Collection for this art showcase at Inverleith House.  Forty artists were selected from Australia, Austria, Barbados, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Nepal, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UK and USA.

Floral illustrations blending botancial accuracy and fine art

The walls of the downstairs gallery have been painted a soft sage green which gives a calm, cool backdrop to the paintings. Each are labelled by the classic Latin name with the name of the artist. 

Brownea grandceps, Maria Alice de Rezende

Paresh Churi uses an ecological approach for his drawing, of “Dichrostachys cinerea” featuring the branch, buds and insects in its natural setting.  In contrast, Claire Banks, presents a scientific dissection of “Cavendishia Engleriana var. ecuadorensis” – such fine detail of tiny feathery stamens and silky petals. In display cases there are Claire’s sketch books and paint pots – the precise colour palette is simply stunning.

Paulownia tomentosa, Mieko Ishikawa

Narongsak Sukkaewmanee’s floral study of “Musa coccinea” is a flourish of coral blossom, leaves, seeds and nuts. The Coffee plant is delicately sketched by Sarah Howard, while Jacqui Pestell has created a detailed image of a Blackberry.  Beautifully captured in soft shades of pink, yellow and green, is “Globba winitii” by Sunanda Widel. 

These are just a few highlights of these colourfully crafted masterpieces, which combine exquiste botanical accuracy with artistic perfection. 

To complement this showcase, four contemporary artists were commissioned to create their own personal, cultural and geographical response to the natural world through paintings, drawings, photography and video film. 

The ‘Night Garden’ blue room by Wendy McMurdo

Upstairs at Inverleith House, the first room is taken over by Wendy McMurdo has curated  Night Garden, inspired by blossoming Spring flowers, a series of photographs accompanied by her diary entries.

The early months of the Covid-19 lockdown coincided with the warmest May ever recorded in Britain.  The sunsets were spectacular. Night after night, the May skies were filled with lilac and purple. My wisteria flowered for the first time. “

Wisteria, Wendy McMurdo

During this time, her mother had become ill and soon passed away. Meanwhile, in Wendy’s garden, an unidentified plant began to grow, unfurling glossy leaves, then buds bursting into life with beautiful flowers – “large waxy trumpets filled the night air with their scent that summer.”  

Cardiocrinum Giganteum – Wendy McMurdo

The plant was named as the very rare, “Cardiocrinum Giganteum, giving an unexpected, welcome sign of renewal at the time of sadness and loss. Out of the dark, a lily grows.

Annalee Davis from Barbados has created an illustrated family history entitled As If The Entanglements Of Our Lives Did Not Matter. This refers to the fact that her grandparents were of mixed race at the heart of Colonial life on a sugar cane plantation, as depicted in this charming portrait.

“As if the Entanglements of our lives did not matter,” Annalee Davis

Annalee’s Caribbean heritage is illustrated most powerfully using pages of a 1979 Ledger from the Estate. Superimposed on a handwritten list of sales figures and the wages paid to workers are paintings of sugar beet and ivy leaves as well as actual pressed flowers.

Sugar Cane and Ivy on 1979 Ledger sheet, Annalee Davis

Taiwanese-American artist Lee Mingwei is a tribute to his beloved, late Grandmother in a series of photographs, 100 Days with Lily (1995).  Lee cultivated and nurtured a single lily, documenting every moment of its natural life from seed and bulb to blooming flower, until it finally shrivelled and died.

100 days with Lily – Lee Mingwei

Lyndsay Mann has created a video documentary, A Desire For Organic Order on the work of the Herbarium and Centre for Middle Eastern Plants at the Royal Botanic Garden. Featuring plants from Afghanistan dating to the 1820s, the meditative film shows an archive of journal entries, diaries, letters and contemporary links between Scotland and the Middle East. 

Abutilon megapotamicum, Jessica Daigle

 “From common weeds to exotic cultivars, flowers are deeply embedded within our lives and have long been an inspiration to artists (who) explore our wider relationship to nature. We hope the show will encourage visitors to treasure their encounters with the art and the amazing diversity of flora in our Garden and Glasshouses. Emma Nicolson, Head of Creative Programmes, RBGE

Florilegium: a Gathering of Flowers

Friday 16 October – Sunday 13 December 2020 

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

Book a time slot to enter RBGE in order to visit the exhibition.

Inverleith House with Terrace Cafe

The Scottish Portrait Awards 2020 for Fine Art and Photography – an inspiring focus on faces and places, life and love.

Now in its fourth year, the Scottish Portrait Awards received a significant increase in submissions with 1,050 works entered for the SPA in Fine Art and Photography, especially by young artists aged under 25 in both categories. 

This just illustrates the creativity, talent and commitment for artistic expression during life in lockdown. “Art is often a refuge when times are tough and this year proved no exception. Works selected for the 2020 SPAs convey a stunning mix of defiance, escape, resilience and humour.” Gordon Mitchell, Director, SPA  

Entrants to the SPAs must be over 16 years and born, living or studying in Scotland. The Scottish Portrait Award for Fine Art is for portraits in any 2D or 3D medium. The SPA Photography Award for black and white portraiture is named after the late Richard Coward who had a prestigious career as a portrait and fashion photographer.

The annual exhibition of the selected 60 works from the long list of entries, is open from Tuesday 3 to Friday 27 November at the Scottish Arts Club, Edinburgh. I enjoyed a leisurely browse around the two galleries, upstairs and downstairs at the grand Georgian townhouse on Rutland Square.

These are a few of my highlights of the Fine Art exhibition:   

Emmeline Cosnett’s “The Mask Maker” is certainly topical, illustrating her work sewing masks during the Covid-19 pandemic on a vintage Singer machine. Her doleful companion is Bosco, a bull terrier, paws on the table as if to say, ‘When can we go for a walk?!’

The Mask Maker, Emmeline Cosnett

Saul Robertson has captured the peaceful pose of his two young children in “Summer Sleep.”  Such exquisite painterly detail here in this picture of pure innocence: soft, smooth skin, strands of blonde hair and the crumpled folds of white bed linen.

Summer Sleep, Saul Robertson

“Between this World and the World Beyond” is a poignant scene by Li Huang of himself sitting with his late father, recalled as a young man. Each hold a book on Modern Painting, their hand gestures reflect an imagined conversation between father and son, now divided between two worlds. Last year, Li Huang won third prize for a portrait of his mother, “Kinship”.

Between this World and the World Beyond, Li Huang

“Teresa” is a charming tribute to Theresa Gourlay’s aunt, when she was suffering from dementia. There is confusion and pain in her tearful eyes and downturned mouth, as she clutches her arm in comfort, her watch perhaps signifying the passing of time and a life well lived.

Teresa, Theresa Gourlay

“Starting the Day: Self-portrait in Lockdown” is described by the artist Brian Barclay as ‘an insomniac just out of bed and in desperate need of a haircut.’  His Mohican curly whiff and furrowed brow is like a mirror image with, it seems, light-hearted introspection.

Starting the Day, Brian Barclay

I am a great admirer of the brilliant, Oscar winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, (Capote, The Talented Mr Ripley et al). who tragically passed away aged 46, in his prime. The bronze sculpture by David A. Annand expresses his “vitality, intelligence and that twinkle in his eye.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman, David A. Annand

And a look around the Photography gallery:

Mark Shields specialises in finding salt of the earth characters for his narrative portraits.  With an industrial backdrop, “The River Man” is George Parsonage, a legend of the Clyde who has recovered many bodies but, a true Samaritan has rescued 1500 people from the river.

The River Man, Mark Shields

As seen through the eyes of a young girl, Eve, “The Magic and Mystery of Scotland” by Julie Wilkes shows the sweep of the Glenfinnan viaduct reflected through the window of the Jacobite train – aka Hogwart’s Express, the film location of the Harry Potter movie.  

The Magic and Mystery of Scotland, Julie Wilkes

Queen’s Park, Glasgow – Homo Hill –  is renowned as a playground and meeting place for gay men.  On a summer’s day, “Gareth and Andrew” by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan, depicts their private, intimate, close embrace.

Gareth and Andrew, Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Davide Pagnossin is a close friend of Umu whose serene, natural beauty was apparently snapped in a fleeting moment, as “she looked at me effortlessly” without poise or pose. “Umu and the Boys” shows her beside a lamplit painting, out of focus as the backdrop. 

Umu and the Boys, Davide Pagnossin

From the final sixty entries, the shortlist of five portraits in each of the Fine art and Photography categories has now been selected by the professional judging panels.

Fine Art nominees: Brian Barclay – Starting the Day: Self-portrait in lockdown and Li HuangBetween This World and the World Beyond. (as above);. Bethany Cunningham – Steamin’ aff a Sair Fecht, her boyfriend in lockdown mode;  Reuben Sian de GourlayThe Contemplation of Being Back in Nature, c.2059, a meditation of modern society and nature; Huw Williams – Overalls, Mouse ….and Me, a self-portrait with his dachshund, Mouse, who was meant to be a studio dog, but she hated the cold and loud music. (illustrated below).

Photography nominees: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan’ – Gareth and Andrew; Robert Andrew Mheadhoin Trefor shows a builder repairing a track on the summit of a windy mountain;  Peter Iain Campbell –  Milli Kuzem (River Kelvin encounters #002) taken after his daughters discovered a hidden path on the River Kelvin; Samuel TaylorDyron, a joyful, charismatic dancer has a rest;  Ben Douglas –We got everything? shows Sam, Matt and Liam as they set out for a gig.

We got Everything? Ben Douglas

The winners will be announced on 18th November, 2020, who will be presented with a total of £11,000 including the £5000 first prize SPA for Fine Art and £3,000 Richard Coward SPA in Photography.

Visit the SPA 2020 exhibition at the Scottish Arts Club, Edinburgh, 3 – 27 November 2020, Glasgow Art Club, 15 January – 24 February, 2021, Duff House, Banff, 1 April – 30 June, 2021.

Book an appointment on the website.

View the Fine Art and Photography exhibitions on line:

A two minute You Tube video of the exhibition has been set to music by Andy Jeffcoat, commissioned by the Scottish Arts Trust. 

With such a high quality of entries this year, the 180 works on the Long List will be available to view on the website from 15 December 2020 to 15 January 2021.

Overalls, Mouse and Me, Huw Williams

Bienvenue La Fete du Cinema, 2020

The French Film Festival UK is on the road again: 220 films, 28 cinemas, 25 locations, 44 days – La crème de la crème of Francophone Cinema.

After the cancellation of all the Edinburgh Festivals this year, and with most theatres still closed, it is most welcome news that the French Film Festival UK decided to plan ahead in positive spirit.  The 28th edition is back again, from Wednesday 4 November until Thursday, 17th December, 2020.

The inaugural Festival was in December 1992, as one of the selected cultural events as part of the Summit of the European Council in Edinburgh. Almost three decades later, the French Film Festival UK has developed into a major annual celebration of French-language cinema. 

The FFF is due to take place across the UK in independent Art House cinemas from Aberdeen to Plymouth*, screening a hand-picked selection of new movies from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec and Africa.

(N.B * Cinemas may be affected by changing national and regional health and safety restrictions.)

The programme is distinctly diverse with a good deal of comedy to offer the much needed feel good factor, as well as romance, thrillers, family drama, documentaries, Shorts and Classic retrospectives.

The UK premiere in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen will kick off the Festival with Mama Weed / La Daronne. This zany crime caper stars Isabelle Huppert as a police interpreter for the anti-drug squad in Paris. When she gets embroiled in a failed drug deal, inheriting a pile of cannabis, she crosses to the other side to become a well-known drug dealer.

An award winner at the Cannes Film Festival, My Donkey, My Lover & I /Antoinette dans les Cévennes is already a smash hit in France, seen by 600,000 people since opening last month.

When a planned vacation with her secret lover is cancelled, Antoinette sets off to walk  the same the route described in 1879 by Robert-Louis Stevenson in Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes – humorous tales of his stubborn, slow, travel companion and baggage carrier, Modestine.  Accompanied by her donkey, Patrick, Antoinette experiences an emotional journey of self- discovery against a panoramic landscape. 

Juliette Binoche stars in How to be a Good Wife/ La Bonne Épouse as the immaculate Paulette, who runs the Van der Beck’s School of Housekeeping and Good Manners in Alsace. The year is 1968: a satirical comedy about teaching traditional family values in the era of Women’s lib.

Director Valérie Donzelli  had just completed filming at the iconic location for Notre-Dame,  before the catastrophic fire at the Cathedral in April, 2019.  The unwittingly topical narrative is about an architectural competition to re-design the square in front of Notre-Dame in which Donzelli plays Maud, the winner of the prestigious project. “Sizzling, unconventional comedy, which turns sadness into shared joy“. Cineuropa

Love Affairs/ Les Choses qu’on dit, les Choses qu’on Fait is a charming, romantic Brief Encounter tale, in which two strangers are thrown together by chance, set against the lovely, lush French countryside.

If you can only dream of a winter sports trip this year, enjoy the cinematic experience instead in Slalom. Lyz, a 15 year old student, is put through competitive training at an elite ski club in the French Alps.  The title refers as much to downhill racing as to Lyz’s conflicting feelings for her coach, Fred, when their après-ski relationship develops. 

Slalom -off piste drama set in the French Alps

The heritage of French Cinema has always a part of the FFF, represented this year by two influential Film Noir classics from the 1960s.

Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in Breathless, 1960

To celebrate its 60th anniversary is a new 4K restoration of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Michel, a cool, suave, bad guy on the run from the police, hiding out with his girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg), at her Paris apartment to plan an escape to Italy.  

This movie liberated the cinema — as clearly and cleanly as Picasso freed painting and the Sex Pistols rebooted rock.” Boston Globe

Franco-Greek director Costa-Gavras made his debut in 1965 with The Sleeping Car Murders/Compartiment Tuers starring Yves Montand and Simone Signoret. Reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s chillingly gruesome plot line in “Murder on the Orient Express,” six people travel in a railroad sleeping car from Marseilles to Paris.

When a woman is found strangled, police investigate the other five passengers as prime suspects. With stylish camera work, flashbacks and internal monologues in Hitchcockian moody manner, this fast-paced whodunit is described as “Maigret on speed.”

Simone Signoret, Yves Montand, Claude Mann in Compartiment Tueurs

The Mobile Film Festival also presents a snappy, one minute mini movie on the subject of Climate Change, each filmed on a mobile phone, to be shown as a curtain raiser before each cinema screening.

The series of Short Cuts has been selected this year by the FFF team with the help of university students. Between 3 and 21 minutes, they cover animation, comedy and Sci-fi.    

Following the success of Netflix and Amazon Prime, an innovative venture this year is FFF @ home.  Seven movies will be able to be viewed in your own home from 27th November to 4th December.  This online Festival is ticketed with a limited number of subscriptions – so book ahead asap.

Guest directors and actors have always attended selected cinemas for Q/A sessions during the FFF.  As it is not possible to travel to the UK without quarantine just now, interviews are being pre-recorded. A line up of Virtual Guests include Valérie Donzelli, Anne Fontaine, Emmanuel Mouret and Jean Paul Salomé.

Richard Mowe, the Co-founder and Director of the FFF UK commented:

Despite the challenges, we are delighted to have one of the most varied and vibrant programmes ever at this year’s French Film Festival. We hope audiences will respond to the selection in cinemas ..and will appreciate the option of fff @ home. In these dark times we need the light and reflection that cinema can offer.” 

For the full list of Films, what’s on where and booking tickets:


Printed brochure available.

Funders and sponsors – including Screen Scotland, Creative Scotland, Institut française, Alliance Française, Total, TV5Monde, Unifrance, agnès b, and Côte.

L’Ecole du Cinema: the FFF UK’s Learning Programme inspires young students to engage in the French language and culture through films and online resources as part of the Modern Language curriculum. 


Botanical paintings by Julie Croft & photographs by Alexander Van Der Byl, Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh.

Solace – as defined in the dictionary, a noun to mean “comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness.”

During this difficult, disruptive year to normal life, work and travel, many people have been inspired by nature – whether city park, country ramble or a wind-blown stroll along a beach.  This strange, surreal time at home has given the opportunity to listen to bird song and observe blossoming flowers in Spring and now the changing trees in Autumn.

Julie Croft studied illustration at Leicester Polytechnic, and then developed her artistic technique and medium as a mural artist during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Today, her paintings are on a much smaller scale, working at her home in Edinburgh.

The theme of Nature and the Landscape has inspired Julie over the past few months, during the worst times of lockdown, the brighter days through the summer and now heading through the Autumn into Winter.  Here is a most wonderful series of her botanical illustrations and miniature landscapes.

So take a look back to the emerging flourish of plants during April and May with charming watercolours such as Spring Greens.  These slender twigs with their tiny leaves and burst of buds is beautifully sketched and painted in soft colours with such delicate detail.

Moving on swiftly into June and July, blossom blooms with a whiff of Summer Scent from three flowers, which look like, a pink poppy, white daisies and lilac grape hyacinth.  They do transport you into the garden on a warm summer day.

On a walk in October, it’s all about berries, conkers and all the leaves turning golden brown.  This is another charming trio, with a small, dry, curled up leaf, in Autumn Berries. 

And a wonderful collection of golden, sand and burgundy leaves fallen from the trees in the soft shades of the Fall.

Winter Trees is a lovely pencil and watercolour sketch which perfectly sums up the chilly days at the dark end of a year in Nature.

 The wet dawn inks are doing their blue dissolve.
On their blotter of fog the trees
Seem a botanical drawing —
Memories growing, ring on ring,
A series of weddings.

Winter Trees, Sylvia Plath

Julie Croft also paints atmospheric land and seascapes – watercolours on Daler Rowney paper which create a richly textured backdrop. These intimate, small scale scenes are so pleasing to the eye.

At the other side of the gallery is a collection of photographs by Alexander Van Der Byl who is in his final year as a Photography Student at Edinburgh College of Art.

A successful career is already on the cards as this year he was awarded the Astaire Art Prize 2020.  It is presented for outstanding undergraduate work by a third or fourth-year student at the ECA, founded by Mark Astaire, a University of Edinburgh Politics graduate and investment banking professional. This year four winners were chosen from a shortlist of twenty artists, each receiving £250.

“I could see all the students produced such wonderful and varied collections of work. It was difficult, but I had so much fun trying to select just four works!”  Mark Astaire 

“ … work that is sophisticated, intelligent and dynamic.” Gordon Brennan, School of Art Painting Lecturer

The Anticipation of Change, Alexander Van Der Byl

Van Der Byl’s award winning photograph is entitled The Anticipation of Change, which was taken in a former carpet shop in Leith; shabby, peeling flock wallpaper, tartan lino, blue carpet, gas meter, the table laid with a teapot and glasses, beneath a Vettriano print of the “The Billy Boys” on the wall. A cold, empty room perhaps, but there is a sense of pride and belonging in what is someone’s business.

This photograph is part of a series called “Return to Sender, No Such Address” of ten Hahnemühle German Etching Photograhic prints, “documenting the process of leaving a domestic space, (and) explores a presence which is transient and short lasting.” 

Home from Work, Alexander Van Der Byl

Home from Work focuses on another empty room, with an enticing warm light shining through the open door, perhaps the kitchen and a meal being prepared for the person arriving back home at the end of the day. With shimmering shadows and a half hidden portrait, this is such a haunting image.

Again, a fascinating glimpse of a domestic scene, with a television, an empty bookshelf, plant, vase, lamp in Rocking Horse Winner – the blurred effect of a child’s toy horse cleverly depicting a flash of movement.

Rocking Horse Winner, Alexander van der Byl

Here are also a few black and white portraits, which capture the thoughtful facial expression of the subject, in a quiet, quick, snap shot moment.

Portrait of a girl, Alexander Van Der Byl

From Julie’s painterly nature walk through gardens, woodland and the seashore, enter Alexander’s contemplative world of deserted rooms and streets.  With their distinctively different artistic vision, they share a theme of nostalgic memory, time past and present, the experience of isolation and silence, with a comforting, joyful sense of peace. Solace indeed.

SOLACE – Dundas Street Gallery, 6 Dundas St, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ

17th – 24th October, 2020. 11am – 6pm daily.

Exhibition closes Saturday 24th, 2pm

Land, Sea and Sky – majestic coastal paintings by Steven Hood at the Dundas Street, Gallery, Edinburgh

It is not only this sense of place but the uniqueness of experience at a specific moment in time.   These new paintings offer a kind of permanence to that experience, to what was observed and more importantly for what was felt. Steven Hood

Steven Hood painting En Plein Air

Steven Hood studied drawing and painting at the Edinburgh College of Art (1985-89) and has enjoyed a prestigious career with regular solo exhibitions at private galleries, and amongst numerous others, at the Society of Scottish Artists, Noble Grossart Award and the Royal Scottish Academy.

Living and working in the Edinburgh, the foreshore around Granton has been a favourite stomping ground since childhood.  With such a close affinity to the iconic views over Firth of Forth, here is a magnificent, moody seascape, ‘Haar over Cramond Island.’  

Haar over Cramond Island

For those who don’t know the word, Haar: noun – a cold sea mist off the North Sea. Just a vague glimpse of the distant island can be seen through a hazy light struggling to break through the mass of greyness.

Haar Enveloping Inchkeith Island

The fine perspective in ‘Haar Enveloping Inchkeith Island’ leads the eye from the grassy sandy cover, rocks and lapping waves to the slither of an island lost in the fog on the horizon. These two mesmerising scenes, enveloped in a semi opaque, soft light, convey the chilly, swirling haar, with such delicate atmospheric quality.

Following in the brushstrokes of the pioneering Impressionists, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh et al, Steven Hood likes to paint natural landscapes outside “en plein air,” for a personal, direct response to swiftly changing light and weather.

Evening Sky, Gamrie Bay

A recent trip to the Aberdeenshire coastline shows he is a master at capturing the movement and patterning of clouds. Like the artist, in “Evening Sky, Gamrie Bay,” near Gardenstown, we too stand on the beach under a wide shimmering sky in the rosy dusk.

Van Gogh was fascinated by wheat fields, painted again and again with cypress trees, reaper or birds.  Hood also depicts the glorious golden harvest, the tall stalks bent over in the sea breeze in “Cliff Top Wheat Fields, Aberdeenshire.”  The blocks of bold colour are most effective.

Clifftop Wheat Fields, Aberdeenshire

Observing the light over the seashore at the end of the day is very much a recurring theme, such as the ambient detail in “Setting Sun, the Mouth of the River Almond.” The dark waves and grey rain clouds contrast with a glimmer of pink rays casting a faint glint on the water.

Setting Sun, Mouth of River Almond

Most inspiring is a duet of sunsets, “snapped” quickly over a few minutes on 26th June, looking over to Fife.   This is all part of his aim to seize the likeness of a place at a specific moment, akin to a painterly photograph.

Setting Sun over Fife, 26th June

A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone. 
― John Steinbeck, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’

After the Sunset, 26th June

Turner created hundreds of sketches and paintings of different weather conditions, especially clouds and rain such as “Beach, English coast” (1835).

Beach, English Coast c.1835-40 Joseph Mallord William Turner

With similar powerful abstract expression, “Rain Clouds over Inchkeith Island,” the slanting, lashing downfall dramatically evoked with a flurry of thick, brash, brushstrokes.

Rain Clouds over Inchkeith Island

Art is more than a visual response, and Steven Hood clearly conveys the enriching emotional experience, a real sense of place.

These paintings are even more powerful when viewed in the gallery and this is a great space to stand back and observe the wild natural beauty of the Scottish coastline. They recall so poignantly the sentiment of Masefield’s poem, “I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.”

Land, Sea and Sky – Steven Hood

Saturday 10th October to Wednesday 14th October 2020 

10.30am – 5.30pm

Dundas Street Gallery. 6 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ 

Social distancing measures will allow for 6 people in the gallery at any given time. Masks must be worn and hand sanitiser will be provided. 

Visit the website to view the exhibition

Judith I. Bridgland showcases wild Scottish seascapes at the Grilli Gallery, Edinburgh

GRILLI GALLERY, 20a Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ

A solo exhibition of paintings by Judith I. Bridgland

26th September to 22nd October, 2020

Mon, Tues, Thurs & Fri 11am to 4pm; Saturday 10.00am to 1.00pm  Closed Sunday & Wednesday

Tel: 0131 261 4264  –

Low Tide, North Berwick

Born in Australia, Judith I. Bridgland came to Scotland as a young child and later studied at University of Glasgow, graduating with a MA, (Honours) in History of Fine Art and English Literature.  She specialises in seascapes around the British Isles.

This exhibition takes tour around the coastline of Scotland, from East Lothian to Aberdeenshire, Sutherland to the Outer Hebrides.  The iconic pudding shape of the Bass Rock, North Berwick, takes centre stage in “Sun on the Sand,”  a stunning composition of sweeping stripes and layers to denote the wide sandy beach, seaweed, rockpools leading the eye to the distant bird colony island.

Sun on the Sand, North Berwick

“Two Figures on the Beach at Sunset,”  features a tiny dot of a couple who can just be seen at the edge of the breaking waves, under a coral-tinted sky. The flourish of thick brush strokes creates a wildly impressionistic perspective with vibrant colour and atmospheric energy.

Two Figures on the Beach

The Isle of Harris must be a favourite place for Bridgland, who has painted several different scenic views to capture its white sand beaches and wild natural environment.   This reminds me of an amazing story.

West Beach, Berneray, Outer Hebrides (photograph)

About ten years ago, to save the time and expense to send a media photographer to Kai Bae, Thailand Tourism simply googled images on line and ‘borrowed’ one of West Beach, Berneray instead. But the enticing promotional image was soon identified as taken in the Outer Hebrides.!

The natural “tropical” beauty around Harris is certainly an artist’s paradise.

Across to Luskentyre

Here is the lush, languid beauty of Luskentyre with its long, curving bay, undulating dunes etched with machair grasses, framed by the mountain peaks beyond.

In “Clouds over Luskentyre”  and “Grasses on the Beach”, you really feel that you are standing on the seashore with a whiff of salty sea air in a warm breeze.

Clouds over Luskentyre


Grasses on the Beach, Harris

It is fascinating to learn more about how Judith Bridgland starts the slow creative process for her landscapes:

“I start off by going to visit a location, taking a large set of photographs with two different cameras. I take hundreds and hundreds of photographs getting to understand the landscape, and seeing it in various lights and preferably at different times of the day. I will take shots of the same scene from multiple different angles, and also take samples of earth and sands to remind myself of colours.

I will return to the same place again and again, not to repeat scenes, to copy or replicate – this is an exercise in releasing yourself from merely recording the rhythm of the landscape, and experiment with texture, light and colour. It is a way of building on your understanding of a place, adding depth and pushing yourself in terms of technique.”

Observing the same seashores across the seasons and from dawn to dusk, must be inspirational and, at times, challenging to perfect the painting.  For a prime example of experimenting with texture, light and colour, the burst of a golden glow in “Sunrise in October” is a majestic seascape.   A tangible sense of movement in the lapping waves, flurry of clouds here …. and take a close look to the far eft hand side to spot what appears to be the glint of a lighthouse perched on a rock.

Sunrise, October

There is a mix of full scale paintings, oil on linen or board, as well as smaller studies in acrylic.  These will surely entice you to plan a Staycation trip around the Scottish seashore – perhaps an island hopping cruise around the Hebrides – for the great escape.   Around the gallery too are botanical studies, lovely vases of lilies and roses to brighten your home this winter.

White Lillies