Talbot Rice Gallery

Impulses Towards Life

31 October - 19 December 2015

Drawing and painting from the Edinburgh College of Art Collection

Gallery 2


Bounding 100 years, Impulses Towards Life emphasises the reimagining of the human form in the last century, including early drawings by William McTaggart, John Bellany, Kirkland Main, Elizabeth Blackadder, Henry Moore and many others; and centred upon a work by Barbara Hepworth that has not been exhibited publicly for 65 years. 

Based on the Edinburgh College of Art Collection the exhibition accentuates the underlying practice of life drawing studies – a central pillar of art education – and is inclined towards the 1950s and 1960s when the majority of the collection was produced or collected. Also including paintings by Augustus Edwin John, Samuel John Peploe, David McLure, Anne Redpath and David Michie the exhibition outlines an evolving and ongoing negotiation between artists, education and the body. 

Establishing a backdrop for the exhibition are three prize winning stump drawings, completed in the 1850s at the Trustees Academy in Edinburgh. These works reflect the classical foundation for artists’ depictions of the body. Featuring casts that would become an iconic part of the College’s physical environment, these ghostly renderings reflect the grand themes of Hellenistic Culture. As students of the college and inhabitants of a city replete with neo-classical architecture, artists – also including John Houston, John Mooney, Edward Gage and Kenneth Dingwall – taking part in life classes, were at once inheriting this tradition and responding to the new imperatives of modernism.

By the 1950s debates on the relationship between art and the body centred upon the importance of tactility in understanding art. For British Art critic Herbert Read, Professor of Fine Art at the University of Edinburgh from 1931 to 1932, who was closely associated with Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, being sensitive to the ‘feeling’ of surface, volume and mass was more vital than a ‘purely visual’ identification with the subject. The collective impulse of artists driven by these new ideas led to a rejection of the ‘normal standards’ of classicism and brought about a desire to inhabit the world in a different way, viewing embodied experience and the body from a more sensitive, interconnected position. 

Impulses Towards Life will be accompanied by a programme of events including traditional Life Drawing Classes and contemporary performative re-interpretations of the Life Drawing Class by artist Steven Anderson.

Art at the moment is thrilling. The work of the artist today springs from innate impulses towards life, towards growth - impulses whose rhythms and structures have to do with the power and insistence of life. [...] In the past, when sculpture was based on the human figure, we knew this structure well. But today we are concerned with structures in an infinitely wider sense, in a universal sense. Our thoughts can either lead us to life and continuity or [...] the way to annihilation. That is why it is so important that we find our complete sense of continuity backwards and forwards in this new world of forms and values

Barabara Hepworth (1959)



Barabara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth (1949) Three Groups on a Pink Ground (Girl with Clasped Hands) University of Edinburgh Art Collection ©Bowness, Hepworth Estate