July 6th 2024

“Flodigarry, Island, Skye” Winifred Nicholson, 1949, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. 

In 1948, he artist, Winifred Nicholson, spent a fortnight on Skye with her three children.  She stayed near the home of the Jacobite heroine, Flora MacDonald and loved the romantic associations.  It was Flora MacDonald who had helped Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape from South Uist disguised as a servant girl.  Here on Skye, Winifred Nicholson began to paint again; her practice having been interrupted during the years of the war. The format of this image was a familiar one. She would often paint some freshly picked wild flowers in a little vase, perched on a window, opening unto a view into the distance. She loved to paint flowers, but she was no botanical artist. It wasn’t the shape of the flowers that she sought to capture.  Rather it was their colour.  She once wrote:  “Colour is seen in growing things, living the life of the rainbow curve, the seven fold spectrum. Flowers create colours out of the light of the sun, refracted by the rainbow prism.  So I paint flowers but they are not botanical or photographic flowers.  My paintings talk in colour,  and any of the shapes are there to express colour but not outline.  The flowers are sparks of light, built of and thrown out into the air as rainbows are thrown in an arc.”  She was fascinated by the colour violet because it was on the edge of the spectrum of visible colour and she mused that perhaps our eyes could be trained to see the colour just beyond it on the scale. Violet is there in the flowers on the window sill but it is surely present also on the island, after which she named this work, the colours of which glow against the more subdued greys and blues of sea and sky.  In fact, although she gives us the customary vase of flowers on the window sill, the focus of the painting is on the island itself, and not on its outline, but rather the colours it throws to us, gathered from the bright sunlight, a phenomenon so characteristic of the Western Isles.  Of course, there is in this painting the sense of distance and of separation between her dwelling on the Skye and the uninhabited island in the bay.  In someway this visit to sky was a new beginning for her and maybe there was a sense of distancing herself from the past.  And maybe this throws light on today’s gospel in which Jesus goes to Nazareth and finds that his wisdom and eloquence is not accepted by people there.  It is as if he has outgrown them.  And so he leaves, wondering anther unbelief.  I myself tend to think of the past as an island where I once lived but now have left and I can only view it in the distance.   Finding inspiration in the colours and customs of the west, Winifred Nicholson would return there again and again throughout the 1950’s.  In 1951 she wrote the following on an envelope as if she had to put her thoughts down right away: “There is I always feel so much sky between the eye that is the watcher and the distant hills or sea ….more sky in that air gulf than in the sky itself – at least that is where I always paint the sky – in between me and the horizon – the sky that is above the horizon looks after itself.  All painting is to me painting of air and sky – that holds colours and light – not pictures of objects.”  The word “marvel” in the last verse of todays gospel, is hard to unpick, but I find that this image helps.  


Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

Read more