A Q&A with James Knox, Director of the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation

James Knox, Director of the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation. Image by Jason Hynes

James Knox, Director of the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation. Image by Jason Hynes


Q: Can you tell us about your involvement with the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation? 

A: I joined the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation as director in May 2015. Before that I was managing director of The Art Newspaper, which is the most authoritative publication of the international art world. Born and brought up in Scotland, where I still have a home, I have served as a trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust.

Q: Tell us about the Fleming Collection and their interest in Scottish art?

A: The family investment bank, Robert Fleming & Son, started buying art in the 1960s to hang in their offices worldwide. They chose Scottish art to acknowledge their Scottish roots as the founder of the bank, Robert Fleming, came from Dundee. Following the sale of the bank in 2000, the collection was vested in the Fleming- Wyfold Art Foundation. The Foundation also owns the finest collection of Scottish art outside institutions.The Foundation has established a ‘museum without walls’ strategy using its collection to initiate exhibitions of Scottish art outside Scotland. The Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation is a registered charity in England and Wales (No.1080197). 

Q: What other well-known artists does the Foundation have in its collection? 

A: The earliest painting in the collection is a portrait of Robert the Bruce by the father of modern Scottish painting, George Jamesone, The picture was exhibited on a triumphal arch at Charles I’s 1633 coronation in Edinburgh. 
We have works by almost all major Scottish painters from Allan Ramsay, Henry Raeburn, Sir David Wilkie and William McTaggart to the Glasgow Boys such as James Guthrie, Sir John Lavery and Northumbrian born Joseph Crawhall. Twentieth century artists include D.Y.Cameron,  Anne Redpath, Elizabeth Blackadder, Joan Eardley, John Bellany and Steven Campbell

Q: Can you tell us about the Foundation and its new ‘without walls’ strategy that it is currently pursuing?

A: As part of its charitable activities, The Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation pursues a programme of cultural diplomacy furthering an understanding and appreciation of Scottish art and creativity outside Scotland through exhibitions, events, publishing and education.  Our goal is to raise the profile of Scottish art and artists by touring works from our collection not just in the UK but also overseas. One of our advantages is that being a private foundation we can move more swiftly than national museums about putting on shows. We also lend works to Scotland Office in Whitehall, Scotland House on Embankment in London and the British Embassy in Dublin. 

Q: Why did you choose Berwick as a location for the Foundation’s first touring exhibition of work by the Scottish Colourists?

A: When looking for an appropriate venue to launch our ‘Museum without Walls Strategy’, I was hugely impressed by the Granary Gallery in terms of its excellent space for a mid-size exhibition and also its high spec environmental conditions for loans of this quality. The team at Berwick Visual Arts is also superb. 

Q: Why did you choose to display them chronologically and not by artist?

A: The Colourists only coalesced as a group after WW1. Before that, the two oldest colourists, SJ Peploe and JD Fergusson, led the way in developing a style based on pure colour. The younger two, FCB Cadell and Leslie Hunter, didn’t come into their own as colourists until the 1920s. Exhibiting their work chronologically allows me to tell the story of the Scottish Colourist style from its earliest days, pioneered by Peploe and Fergusson, to the late works when all four colourists knew one another and exhibited as a group. Although the term Scottish Colourist  - referring to all four artists exclusively did not come into use until 1948 when only Fergusson remained alive. 

Q: Tell us about the ‘early influencers’ included in the exhibition and why you chose these particular artists.

A: I’ve noticed that previous exhibitions of Scottish Colourists never explain where they spring from, and yet their early, youthful work inevitable acknowledges past masters. Key mentors were the earlier generation of radical painters, known as the Glasgow Boys. I have therefore included a work by John Lavery, which highlights the impact of James McNeill Whistler on not just the Glasgow Boys, but the colourists too. I have also included a watercolour by Arthur Melville, a contemporary of the Glasgow Boys but who painted in saturated colour. He also encouraged Fergusson and Cadell to study in France. The third influencer was Robert Brough, who died tragically young, and now largely forgotten. He was a close friend and contemporary of Peploe and influenced his technique. Introducing these three painters roots the colourists in the past as well as their present.    

Q: Favourite painting in the exhibition?

A: Having known the Colourists all my life, this exhibition has led me to treat them all with even greater respect and admiration. Peploe’s Luxembourg Gardens is one of the most radical paintings in the show – and reveals a trait in nearly all great Scottish artists from any period – a fearless quest to explore the frontiers of art and to produce a dazzling contemporary work as a result.