If the links between Scotland and Italy might at times seem dominated by our penchant for gelato and pizza, the City Art Centre will, in September, demonstrate the long creative links between the two countries with an exhibition that shows the influence of Italy on Scottish artists over the past few hundred years.

It begins, in this exhibition, with the advent of the Grand Tour in the 18th century, and with names such as Allan Ramsay. With the exiled Jacobite court hunkered down in Rome, many Scottish artists were drawn there, remaining long after any political hopes had faded. When the rich began touring in the later 18th century, artists such as David Allan, who was interested in Rome’s Classical heritage and the aesthetically pleasing ruins all around him, benefited, Allan himself producing classical historical scenes under the patronage of Lord Cathcart, on whose estate he had grown up.

“It was quite a mecca for a while for Scottish artists to go out to Rome and advance their career prospects, making contact with potential patrons,” says Dr Helen Scott, curator of the exhibition. It aligned, then, with the great interest in the mid twentieth century of Scottish artists in Italy after the Second World War, something which, perhaps, had been growing since F.B. Cadell went out to Italy in 1911, a move which positively influenced his painting style.

Funded to go out to Venice by Patrick Ford, he was at first painting fairly conventionally, Scott says. “Then his brushwork became looser, the paintings became brighter in terms of palette. It was a real turning point in his career, when his work became much more characteristically Colourist in style.” Cadell was taken with the light and colour of Venice.

The painting shown in Edinburgh is one of the paintings that Ford selected as repayment for his patrongage, a large view of the interior of the Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, now on long term loan to the City Art Centre.

Some thirty years later, and after Stanley Cursiter had been so influenced by Italian Futurism that he had become the first Scottish painter to adopt its values, Joan Eardley took the opportunity travel to Italy, although it was the street life which took her. In 1948, having received a Carnegie travelling scholarship from the Royal Scottish Academy and the Glasgow School of Art, she spent a year travelling around Italy.

Having already spent much time sketching street children in Scotland, she became fascinated by the peasants near Florence, where she was lodged, making a number of charcoal sketches of people she befriended and their animals. On her return, her exhibition of works made in Italy is largely regarded as her first solo exhibition.

“It didn’t so much give her new ideas as cement what she was doing,” says Scott. “It’s interesting that most students at that stage in their careers are looking more at tourist sites and architecture, and she is quite deliberately going out and getting to know people and getting an insight into their lives. It was a precursor for work produced in the next decade of her career.”

In the 1950s more artists followed, partly, Scott tells me, because of the influence of William Gillies and John Maxwell at Edinburgh College of Art, both of whom had visited Italy and been inspired. Elizabeth Blackadder was amongst a crop of students using travelling scholarships to visit Italy. “It was a real draw,” says Scott. “Venice, Rome, but also the countryside.

“It was a blend of everything, really – from the light to the Renaissance heritage, the Classical architecture and archaeology, the landscape and the contemporary landscape.

“And it wasn’t always the grand architecture, but the hill towns. As a subject, Italy appealed to different artists on different levels. It still does.”

The exhibition explores many different dimensions of the collection, including those artists, too, whose heritage was Italian, from second or third generation Italian-Scots such as Eduardo Paolozzi and Alberto Morocco, the former represented by a bronze cast, made in the 1970s, of his early Horse Head from the 1940s.

Scott tells me that the exhibition will tell his story, including his three month incarceration as a teenager during the first year of the Second World War as an “enemy alien” by dint of his heritage – for the story of the relationship between these two countries is not always as rosy as the light-filled watercolours of those early Grand Tour artists make it appear

The Italian Connection, City Art Centre, 2 Market Street, Edinburgh, 0131 529 3993 www. edinburghmuseums.org.uk 7 Sep - 24 May 2020, Daily 10am - 5pm

Critic's Choice

Tom Hickman’s interest in embroidery began, he says, with his Great Aunt Flo who lived in a flat above his grandparents with three other aunts.

A former court dress maker, she stitched silk paintings in retirement and shared them with her enthusiastic young great nephew. Some years later, after a stint as an antiques dealer, he himself started working on his own version of 17th century stump work.

The results are shown here in this exhibition of the wide-ranging artist’s work, the centrepiece a set of biblical pictures featuring animals (puffins, lions, you name it) from the Bible, laboriously embroidered in stump work. Scenes vary from the Garden of Eden to Noah’s Ark and the Nativity.

Tom Hickman, who grew up on the Mull of Kintyre, has had a variety of jobs from hill farmer to theatre worker, and has lived on a croft in North Tolsta, Lewis since 2005. Graduating many years ago in Agricultural Chemistry, he is an entirely self-taught artist who works in a variety of media from paint to thread.

The exhibition includes works that Hickman has collected over the years, from places as diverse as Australia, South Africa and France. His own works in the show reflect his diverse methods, from furniture-making to “folk art” inspired by the naïve tradition, and collaged assemblages made from shells he has collected on his travels. He also works in ceramics, found items and wool collected from around his croft, which he frequently embroiders into works that incorporate offcuts of Harris Tweed.

All That I Do: Tom Hickman, An Lanntair, Kenneth Street, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, 01851 708480, lanntair.com Until 5 Oct, Mon-Sat, 10am-late; last Sun of the month, 1.30pm - 5pm

Don't miss

Artist Thomas Hawson, who works largely in wood, gives his studio its annual airing in a weekend of exhibitions with ceramicist Jenny Ozwell and guest artist Mridula Basi. Alongside the work, from Hawson’s photographs, paintings and constructions, the mill itself is fascinating, much of it internally constructed by Hawson himself, and all of it a stone’s throw from the Capon Tree in the heart of the ancient Jedforest. Doors are open 10am-6pm all weekend, with a “Deer Dance” Performance at 2pm on Sunday.

Open Studio, Hundalee Mill Farm, Jedburgh, 01835 869931 www.thomashawson.com , 24-25 Aug, Daily 10am-6pm