Originally compared to the Italian Renaissance, Phoebe Traquair's work

is reviving interest this year.

Kennedy Wilson reports

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PHOEBE Anna Traquair's biblical murals in the Catholic Apostolic

Church, a grand neo-Norman pile in Edinburgh's Mansfield Place, work

their way around the interior. A spectacular host of saints, angels,

elders, wise and foolish virgins rendered in blue, crimson and gold make

the church a treasure of the flourishing arts revival of

turn-of-the-century Edinburgh.

Now, after years of neglect, Traquair's work is due for re-evaluation.

Throughout the Edinburgh Festival the murals will be on view. There will

be a lively range of events in the church including music concerts,

lectures and exhibitions. It's hoped that after the Festival the church

will continue as a multi-media centre.

Other sites of Traquair's murals in Edinburgh include a chapel at the

Royal Sick Children's Hospital and the song school of St Mary's

Cathedral. The Mansfield Place church is by far the most ambitious and

stunning and is the only one open to the public.

A major Scottish National Portrait Gallery Festival exhibition also

looks at embroidery, paintings, jewellery and illuminated manuscripts by

this prolific and talented woman who embodied the Arts and Crafts

Movement in Scotland.

The tenets of the Catholic Apostolic Church (the Catholic refers to

universal rather than Roman Catholic) were rooted in the Book of

Revelation. Although Traquair followed the suggestions of the elders she

was given a relatively free hand. The designs and schemes were her own,

done for no financial reward.

Haloes, borders, crowns and trumpets were moulded in relief and gilded

and these punctuate the murals which depict parables and scenes from the

life of Christ. In the 1890s the murals were compared to the work of the

Italian Renaissance.

Phoebe Traquair painted in oils but used turpentine and wax to give a

soft watercolour look. She tried to ensure that her murals would

withstand the damp Scottish climate. Had she not used the methods she

did the murals probably would not still be there today.

In 1898 The Studio magazine wrote: ''In the grey, cold north it is

sombre art we are led to look for. Therefore, when in Scotland's capital

we turn a corner and find ourselves in the small chapel behind the choir

stalls of [this] Catholic Apostolic Church it is little wonder we catch

our breath at surroundings so rich and so little anticipated.''

The scale of the project was vast, it took Traquair almost eight years

to complete. One mural alone took 15 months. Phoebe was a petite woman,

and she must have cut an odd figure working on high scaffolding for up

to six hours a day in the fussy Victorian dress of the time.

Says Susan Herzmark, one of the prime movers behind the church murals

project: ''Her output was astounding. She was a respectable Victorian

lady who married a very important man. She had to support him and

support a middle-class household with all its complexities . . . she

produced all sorts of other work at the same time.'' What first drew

Susan to Phoebe Traquair? ''The quality of the work, the mastery of

techniques, the use of colour and the subject matter. She was a deeply

religious person, but not just in the conventional sense. She was a

mystical artist and has been compared to William Blake.''

In February 1993 the Mansfield Place Church was added to the Scottish

Civic Trust's ''Buildings At Risk'' register. Both the building

(designed by the architect of the gothic Scottish National Portrait

Gallery, Robert Rowand Anderson) and the murals have been listed Grade A

of architectural/historic importance. And a recent report from the

Stenhouse Conservation Centre and Historic Scotland has made clear the

restoration work requiring to be done. The church had been empty for

some time and parts of the murals have been affected by dampness and

begun to flake.

The Mansfield Place Church Committee is now desperately seeking

sponsorship to help bring the church back to its former glory and clean

and restore the murals. Although the church is under restoration it is

still seeking a sympathetic owner.

The hope is that it will become an arts and conference centre with

performance and exhibition space. It may also be used as a local

community centre. Another possibility is that the church could become a

centre for learning restoration techniques. The basement is big enough

for meeting rooms and a restaurant.

* Phoebe Anna Traquair: Centenary Celebration Events programme runs

from August 7 to September 5, 11am-7pm daily. The Scottish National

Portrait Gallery's exhibition runs from August 6-November 7.