An afternoon of summer self-improvement

This entry comes from guest blogger Robert Tennant, a recent St Andrews history graduate. He’s what he has to say about the new art exhibition in MUSA:

As summer has officially started most of the students living in St Andrews have already flown “the bubble” leaving only those working here over summer and the locals left. As a student who remains, I found myself pondering what to do with my time. After two weeks of admittedly doing very little I decided to attempt to better myself. The usual student lifestyle was to be replaced with early morning starts at the gym, while the afternoons would be taken up by reading, walking the coastal path and visiting those local attractions that often go unnoticed. It was on a Tuesday afternoon that my pursuit of self-improvement led me to MUSA to look over the new art exhibition there. I was so impressed by the art on display that I was provided with inspiration to write this blog which reflects on the pieces of art that particularly spoke to me.

The variety of paintings on display is varied and while little technically connects the art, it is a splendid opportunity to take in the individual merits of several excellent pieces. One painting, ‘Breakfast’ by Alberto Morocco (1917-1998), was included in the exhibition by public consensus and also happens to be the curator’s favourite amongst the collection. It is easy to see why the picture is so popular. The artist, local to Aberdeen, is heavily influenced by the avant-garde movement of the 1920s and 1930s and depicts two young ladies in a wonderfully created “quiet satisfaction.” It would be possible to get lost in the scene if the other paintings did vie for your attention.

As a historian my attention was immediately drawn to a wonderful etching of a scene depicting Chelsea Pensioners reading the news of Wellington’s famous victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Hung in the centre of the collection in a beautifully crafted golden frame (the frame itself is a work of art) it is, for me at least, the highlight of the collection. The original painting was commissioned by Wellington himself to mark his victory, with the later etching being granted as a gift to the University by David Wilkie. The image portrays a remarkable scene outside a pub, the Duke of York, as the news of Wellington’s victory is received, capturing the reaction to a truly historic moment in brilliant, almost comic style.

Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Gazette of the Battle of Waterloo John Burnet (1784-1868), after the painting by David Wilkie (1745-1841)

The whole exhibition is overlooked from the end of the gallery by Sir James Colquhoun Irvine, who was an eminent professor of Chemistry at the university, as well as principal for 31 years. The eyes staring down at visitors almost make you feel that you should be taking notes on the artwork, with the robes of the Vice-Chancellor adding a truly academic significance to the painting.

The exhibition gives the general public a chance to see artwork that is usually confined to the university’s buildings or offices, seen only by selected staff and students. The Recording Scotland Scheme is represented by William Stewart Orr’s (1872-1944) watercolour of Castle Stalker, which is such a beautiful image that one can’t help thinking it deserves to be permanently on display to the public. Unfortunately, the exhibition is only temporary and I can only encourage you to visit MUSA to see my chosen four paintings, as well as other local artwork that has been thrust together in this extraordinary collection.

Robert Tennant


One thought on “An afternoon of summer self-improvement

  1. You can think about the Chelsea Penioners in more detail, and have a bit of fun at the same time, by taking one of “Make Your Own Commemorative Cartoon” worksheets from the artcart.


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