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The Light and Life of John Henry Lorimer

Painting of three women in a room by a window. They are wearing white puffy dresses, two of them look outside the window, one seems crying sitting by the window
Sunday 28th November 2021 11.43

The newest exhibition at the City Art Centre, The Light and Life of John Henry Lorimer, does not disappoint. The paintings are gorgeous, the curation and layout are carefully considered, and the space is big and bright. With clear themes of light, femininity, family, and the home, the exhibition is comforting and revitalizing. This first-ever retrospective of Lorimer’s paintings and life does justice to his incredible body of work. 

John Henry Lorimer, The Flight of the Swallows, oil on canvas, 1906, City Art Centre, Edinburgh Museums andGalleries

The exhibition’s greatest strength is its personability. The connection I felt to John Henry Lorimer (affectionately called JH by his family) was surprisingly substantial. Along with his paintings, the exhibit includes items such as letters, chairs, cradles, and plenty of information on his ancestry. An engaging video displayed in the exhibition takes the audience on a tour of Lorimer’s beloved home, Kellie castle, and introduces the lively cast of characters for this exhibition -- the Lorimer family. This curatorial choice challenges the idea of the artist as an abstract concept, making Lorimer feel like a friendly presence that visitors can get to know personally. 

The paintings themselves are a sight to behold. Lorimer’s paintings range in size, from small to massive, but all are a product of undeniable skill. He paints the hands of his subjects, in various elegant positions, with overt technical artistry; and the way in which he exquisitely and precisely utilizes light is impressive. His paintings feature candlelight, sunlight, lamplight, twilight, and many other forms of illumination. The exhibition also functions as a love letter to Kellie Castle, and in some ways a love letter to Scotland. Lorimer paints his surrounding landscape with obvious devotion. 

Lorimer’s Hush (1905) is my favourite painting in the City Art Centre’s displayed collection. The piece is stunningly beautiful and I felt like I could have examined it for hours. The painting’s subject is Lorimer’s sister-in-law affectionately tucking her young baby Christoper into bed. Her exquisite white dress is elegant and delicate, billowing out over the bed, as the sleeping baby looks adorably peaceful. A dog sleeps tranquilly nearby, adding to the landscape’s soothing domesticity. The light from the window illuminates the mother and child in a manner that makes the pair seem angelically good. There is a powerful feeling of motherly love evoked from this scene, and it mesmerized me. 

John Henry Lorimer, The Eleventh Hour, oil on canvas, 1894, on loan from a private collection

Lorimer’s Sunlight in a Scottish Room (1913) is my second favourite piece in the exhibition. This piece exemplifies everything that makes Lorimer unique. The light, shadows, and colours are technically flawless and feel viscerally real. Yet, the painting still feels soft and warm, like a quiet fairytale. The ordinary room, with its simple vase of flowers, is elevated through the artist's magical representation underscoring the importance of everyday life. Lorimer seems to suggest that the mundane is not boring, but instead can be strikingly beautiful, in a gentle and understated fashion.

The Light and Life of John Henry Lorimer is a large, immersive exhibition that deftly introduces the Lorimer family and welcomes its viewers to Kellie Castle. The paintings are stunning, comforting, and at times joyful. The importance of home to Lorimer is revealed to its viewers through the clear love in which he paints his family and surrounding landscape. Beauty can be found in the simplest moments, and Lorimer captures them with skill and tenderness. 

Image: John Henry Lorimer, The Flight of the Swallows, oil on canvas, 1906, City Art Centre, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries
Image courtesy of City Art Centre