An Italian Renaissance painting of the Madonna and Child that has long been shrouded in mystery has gone on display following extensive restoration.

The captivating image – painted in Florence in the 1520s – has been unveiled at Kirkcaldy Galleries, where it is being exhibited for the first time.

Conservation work has shed new light on who painted the picture and given curators fresh insights into the artist’s creative process and technique.

Leading edge technology has also revealed for the first time a shadowy image, believed to be Joseph, beneath layers of paint.

The restoration, which involved the Universities of Aberdeen and Glasgow, has inspired gallery staff to uncover another mystery – how the picture made its way from Florence to Fife.

Until now, little was known about the history of the painting, which depicts Mary holding the baby Jesus on her knee with the young Saint John the Baptist standing by their side.

A strip of paper on the back of the frame credits Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530) – a High Renaissance master from Florence – but experts who have studied the painting in recent years suggest otherwise.

Instead they credit the studio of acclaimed Florentine artist Domenico Puligo (1492-1527), who found success focusing on Madonna paintings. The great Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari praised Puligo for his use of colour and the ‘beautiful expressions’ of his subjects.

Paint samples taken by scientists at the University of Glasgow have helped to confirm the date of the work.

Using infrared photography to see beneath the paint, conservators also detected charcoal strokes that reveal how the artist figured out – and even changed – the picture’s composition.

And beneath the landscape scene in the top left corner of the painting, they identified a figure – most likely Joseph – who often appears in similar positions in Renaissance paintings.

Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist is the oldest painting in the extensive art collection managed by cultural charity OnFife, which runs Kirkcaldy Galleries.

New research suggests the painting was brought to Fife in the 1860s by retired Royal Navy surgeon Alexander Woodcock, who had set up a private museum of artefacts and curiosities in Anstruther.

Dr Woodcock made regular trips to Edinburgh by steamer to meet sellers and artists and it is thought the painting was most likely purchased on one of these visits.

The museum closed after Woodcock’s death and the painting was acquired by the local burgh council, which displayed it in Anstruther Town Hall. The painting later became part of the collection of Fife Council, now managed by OnFife.

Interest in the painting was revived in 2016 by Professor John Gash, a senior lecturer in History of Art at the University of Aberdeen, who first linked the painting to Domenico Puligo

The restoration has been supported by Fife Council’s Common Good Funds and the Woodmansterne Art Conservation Awards. The work was completed by Egan, Matthews & Rose of Dundee.

Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist is painted on wood, which was commonly used before being gradually replaced by canvas.

After cleaning and strengthening the poplar hardwood panel, conservators cleaned all dirt from the painting’s surface before removing varnish and overpaint traces from previous restorations.

This helped bring the original colour scheme back to life, correct the colour discrepancies of earlier conservation work and stabilise the paint layer.

Conservators also retouched the areas where the paint had been previously damaged or removed and corrected any discolouration and blemishes.

The painting was then varnished again to give the colours richness and to protect it from dirt and dust. Parts of its frame were also recast, repainted and refitted with low reflective glass.

An entire room has been set aside in Kirkcaldy Galleries for one year to tell the story of the conservation work and the recent research into the painting’s past.

“The restoration has been doubly satisfying process,” says Collections Curator Kirke Kooke. “Not only do we have a beautifully restored painting for visitors to enjoy, but a host of new insights into its story.”

 

Comic book fans are marvelling at an action-packed exhibition that reveals one of Fife’s unsung success stories.

The show at Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries celebrates work by comic book creators who have a connection to the Kingdom.

With Dundee often grabbing the limelight as Scotland’s Comic Capital, the impact of artists and writers from across the Tay can be easily overlooked.

Writers, artists and editors for some of the most enduring comics such as Commando, The Beano and 2000AD have made their homes in the Kingdom.

Comic Kingdom, which is free and runs until 14 January, showcases a diverse range of work from Victorian times to the present day.

Among them is Martin Anderson from Leuchars – the first artist to be employed by a British newspaper. Anderson, whose pen-name was Cynicus, joined Dundee publisher John Leng in 1880.

He illustrated articles for the Dundee Advertiser and People’s Friend before going on to create political satires for publications including The Quiz – a rival to the more famous Punch.

Aberdeenshire-born artist Len Fullerton had a strong affinity with Fife. Under the pen-name of Nat Brand, he drew comic strips for Triumph, Red Star Comic and Comic Capers in the 1930s and 40s.

He was a keen naturalist, drawing birds, plants, animals and insects. Moving to Newport-on-Tay, he often visited Tentsmuir nature reserve, where a nature hide is named after him.

Glasgow cartoonist William ‘Bud’ Neill also settled in Fife for a time. His most famous character, Lobey Dosser – Sheriff of Calton Creek, first appeared in 1949 in the Evening Times.

Memorials to Neill’s work include statues of his characters G.I. Bride and Lobey Dosser, and a more recent mural on the side of a building in Partick.

Neill’s dry humour enlivened his home life as well as newspaper pages – when he lived in a house overlooking Dunfermline Cemetery, he named it Dim View.

DC Thomson in Dundee has employed many Fife-based editors, writers and artists across its many publications, including comics such as Adventure, Hotspur, Beano and Commando.

Comic writers John Wagner and Pat Mills lived in Wormit while working for the company, plotting their own comics in a garden shed before moving on to titles such as Action, Battle and 2000AD.

Celebrated Fife crime writers Ian Rankin and Val McDermid have also dabbled in graphic novels.

Rankin wrote Dark Entries for DC’s Vertigo imprint in 2009, in which protagonist John Constantine, of the Hellblazer series, investigates a trail of supernatural events on the set of a reality game show.

McDermid wrote a graphic novel, Resistance, which was published by Prole Books last year – a timely story about the spread of an infectious disease and its effects on the global population

 

 

OnFife is the latest organisation to join forces to help Fifers struggling with cost-of-living increases by offering a warm welcome to warm spaces.

Nine libraries across Fife have been designated Warm Spaces over the coming winter months and as well as providing space to work, study and play, they will be offering free hot drinks and additional free resources, such as jigsaws, games and craft materials.

And from the New Year there will be free art activities delivered in partnership with arts organisation Fife Contemporary and free creative activities led by artist Katie Fowlie as part of Fife’s Remembering Together Covid Memorial project.

OnFife secured £34,000 from Fife Council to run warm spaces across the seven local areas of Fife from Thursday 1 December to next March and the libraries taking part are Cowdenbeath Area – Cowdenbeath; Dunfermline – Duloch; Glenrothes Area – Leslie; Kirkcaldy Area – Burntisland; Levenmouth – Buckhaven; North East Fife – St Andrews and Cupar; South and West Fife – Rosyth and Dalgety Bay.

The initiative is part of the Council’s Cost of Living Support Campaign, which aims to help people through the rising cost of living crisis.

“Across the country libraries and museums are preparing to act as warm havens for people struggling to heat their homes in the winter months and we will be playing a key role at local level across Fife,” said Michelle Sweeney, Director of Creative Development.

“We’re working with the Council and others offering space, resources and activities to provide a joined-up approach to support services.

“And at branches not designated as Warm Spaces, our teams will still provide a warm welcome, offer warm space to sit and relax and use the normal library facilities and services.

They will also be able to direct people to the Council’s new dedicated Get Help website and community helpline if needed.”

Councillor Linda Erskine, Fife Council Spokesperson for Communities and Leisure Services, said: “Our libraries have always been known as welcoming places at the heart of our communities. This additional funding means they can provide not just a warm space for people to read, study or work but also a warm drink and some free activities to pass the time.

“It is heart-warming to see the general response from our communities in the face of the cost-of-living crisis. So many organisations and community groups are pulling together in a range of ways to try to help everyone through. We have also had an overwhelming response from community groups applying for part of the £150,000 Warm Space funding, provided by Fife Council.

“It’s going to be a difficult winter for many, but it is reassuring to see that our community spirit is still very strong.” Details of the branches and opening hours can be found at onfife.com/warmspaces

Pantomime season is returning to an OnFife venue this Christmas … and star performer Kim Shepherd is thrilled to be slipping back into a leading role. 

Dunfermline-based Kim is raring to go toe to toe with Prince Charming and sweep him off his feet in a production of Cinderella at the Rothes Hall.  

This year’s production in Glenrothes – which runs from 3 to 24 December – will be Kim’s 11th panto and the ten-strong cast is promising a family show full of laughter, magic and romance,

“Fife audiences come to have a really good time and you get an amazing vibe from them,” says Kim, who has starred in the last four OnFife pantos at Kirkcaldy’s Adam Smith Theatre.

“I love that there are always big family groups and that going to the panto’s a real tradition for them. The audience is like another character within the show and it really gees you up before you start.”

“Cinderella is the most magical of shows – the pinnacle of pantos, if you like,” says Kim. “Rehearsals have been going so well and there’s extra sparkle this year because we missed the past two years.”

Kim will be joined on stage by River City star Greg Powrie and OnFife panto favourite Colin Little as one of the wicked stepsisters. Another River City regular, Cameron Fulton, will fill the role of Buttons.

Henry Dolgoff plays the handsome Prince Charming, Lorraine Graham is the Baroness Balgonie, Ryan Towart is Dandini and Martine McMenemy will play the Fairy Godmother. 

Also taking part in the show will be Emily Imerfreys and Will Thompson Brant plus a local junior ensemble to bring you an evening full of sparkle, spills and laughs galore.

Karen Taylor, Programming Manager, said: “The cast of Cinderella is hugely talented and we’re thrilled to have a wonderful Junior Ensemble of local children – we can guarantee that everyone will have a ball this festive season!”

Tickets are available from £7. Family tickets offer savings of up to 15 per cent and bookings for groups of 10 or more mean reductions of 10 per cent. Shows include relaxed and BSL performances.

 

 

Rare archive material documenting more than 500 years of a Fife town’s fascinating history is being made widely accessible for the first time.

People can gain intriguing insights into Kinghorn’s eventful past now that archivists have catalogued two boxfuls of artefacts collected by a local dignitary.

The collection, which belonged to local history enthusiast Jimmie Edmiston, spans from 1478 – when a royal decree established a hospital in the town– to the end of the 20th century.

Included in the archive is a copy of a charter, signed by James III in 1611, confirming Kinghorn’s royal burgh status, and a duplicate of the earliest town plan drawn up in 1828.

As well as collecting artefacts, Mr Edmiston – who died in 2017, aged 95 – kept pages of handwritten notes, gathered over a lifetime of local history research and giving talks.

The former councillor’s collection also features photographs of local people and landmarks – among them one that captures the unveiling of the monument to Alexander III in 1887.

Archivists from the cultural charity OnFife have been working with Kinghorn Historical Society chairperson Ginny Reid to preserve the collection and help place its contents in their wider context.

Local history enthusiasts can gain insights into key events such as the coming of the railway, the loss of Kinghorn’s ferries and the fortification of Inchkeith, begun in 1878.

There are details too of the town’s vanished industries, including its tannery, bottle works, golf club making factory and, on the eastern fringes of the parish, Invertiel brick works.

Major construction projects are recorded as well – with references to the demolition and rebuilding of South Overgate in the 1960s and the arrival of new homes at Pettycur harbour in the 1990s.

Historical curiosities abound. Among the collection is a transcript of hearth taxes imposed on local homes in the 17th century and valuation rolls from the 1920s, 30s and 60s.

The archive mixes business with pleasure. Mundane accounts of drainage, sewage and rights of way contrast with exhilarating glimpses of musical shows, a pro-golf tournament and the Children’s Gala.

There are also insights into the formation of the Kinghorn Lifeboat service in 1965 and the creation of one of Scotland’s first caravan sites, which began life as a camping ground in the 1930s.

OnFife Collections archivist Andrew Dowsey says the archive illustrates how diverse the history of small towns can be: “We get a real sense of how towns and burghs such as Kinghorn, although outward looking, were much more the centre of their own worlds than they are today.”

The archive has been donated to OnFife by Ross Brown of Glenrothes, who is a grandson of Mr Edmiston. Also instrumental in transferring the collection to the OnFife archives was Kinghorn resident Roy Mackie.

Mr Edmiston, who was born and raised in the town, was awarded an MBE in 1999 for his services to the local community.

A Bronze Age food vessel unearthed during a high street demolition 42 years ago has gone on display at a nearby museum.

The 5,000-year-old container, discovered behind a butcher’s shop, is being exhibited at Kirkcaldy Galleries having been recently conserved by experts.

Conservation has been completed as part of a wider project to find out more about the human remains and objects found on Kirkcaldy High Street in June 1980.

Archaeologists from the University of Glasgow, who are leading the study, will use a range of scientific techniques not available to their predecessors who carried out the dig.

Work to flatten the shop and a hotel 42 years ago was dramatically halted when a bulldozer driver caught sight of some partially buried bones.

Three burial cists – or ancient coffins – emerged in the subsequent dig. Two held human remains that showed traces of burning and the other contained the vessel, a flint arrowhead and a flint knife.

The find is one of several 5,000-year-old discoveries to have been made in Kirkcaldy, suggesting that the area was an Early Bronze Age stronghold.

The patterned clay vessel, which is 165mm in diameter and 160mm high, was found in several pieces and reconstructed by University of Glasgow archaeologists at the time.

All of the finds were added to the collection at Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery – now known as Kirkcaldy Galleries – where they have been cared for by curators ever since.

Curators recently noticed the vessel had become unstable and, following analysis by the Glasgow archaeology team, conservation work began. The work was funded by Friends of Kirkcaldy Galleries.

Specialists at the Scottish Conservation Studio in Edinburgh preserved and safeguarded the vessel using reversible adhesive that allows the pot to be dismantled again, if need be.

The pot has been partially filled as only 75 per cent of the original vessel survives. The filled material was then painted a different shade to the original pot so visitors can tell where additions have been made.

A Historic Environment Support Fund grant means analysis of the other objects found on site, and the human remains, can now go ahead at the University of Glasgow.

Jane Freel, a curator with the cultural charity OnFife, which manages the Kirkcaldy collections on behalf of Fife Council, says: “We’re thrilled that visitors can now see this magnificent object for themselves as it offers a fascinating glimpse into Kirkcaldy’s distant past.”

 

Artist Jack Vettriano has spoken warmly of reconnecting with his roots as a major retrospective of his work draws to a close.
The Fife-born painter says the exhibition at Kirkcaldy Galleries – which runs until 23 October – has rekindled his affection for the county, prompting fond memories of his formative years.
For the former mining engineer, the show has been a welcome return to the gallery where he developed his passion for art, having been gifted a set of paints for his 21st birthday.
The show, which includes previously unseen works, is the first to focus on the artist’s formative years and early career before he achieved international success.
Vettriano says of the venue: “It means everything to me – perhaps in retrospect because I haven’t lived here for so long – but it’s fitting that this long look back over my career has taken place where it all started.”
He recalls his first visit to the gallery in childhood: “I think it was the miners’ holiday and my mum and dad were taking us to Edinburgh on the train – we missed it and we lay in the gardens and I wandered into the Galleries.
“I think I was more interested in the museum and not the art works, but eventually that would change and I would ignore the glass cases and go straight upstairs to the paintings.”
The artist was still living at home in Leven when he first took up painting with oils – a process that required copious amounts of turpentine to clean brushes and make the paint more malleable.
It drew a less than enthusiastic response from his father, who would often knock on the artist’s bedroom door, protesting about the overpowering smell.
“I came home one night,” the artist fondly remembers, “and he’d put a note on the door saying ‘do not enter without wearing your barrier gown’.”
Included in the show are several personal effects, including a paint palette, family photographs from childhood days and a model of the Bluebird car that features in one of Vettriano’s best-loved paintings.
Bluebird at Bonneville is one of 57 private loans in the show, which includes hugely popular pieces such as Valentine Rose, Mad Dogs and The Critical Hour of 3am.
Yet even as fame beckoned, Fife still held the artist in its thrall, its seascapes inspiring two of his most successful works, Billy Boys and The Singing Butler.
“I used to make the walk along the sands from Leven to Lower Largo – it’s a lovely walk but if you wanted to go in swimming, you’d have to go a long way out to reach the sea and that’s where I got the idea for the paintings.”
Also included in the exhibition – the artist’s first retrospective since a major show at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery in 2013 – is Long Time Gone. The piece is set against the backdrop of a once familiar Fife landmark – the now demolished Methil power station.
“I think Methil power station was built when I was maybe eight or nine,” he recalls, “and it became in retrospect a bit like Battersea Power Station – it started to take on its own beauty and you could hardly imagine the landscape without it.”
Also on display are two doodles scribbled on betting slips, which were gifted by the artist to his grandfather. The sketches, completed when the artist was seven or eight, are two of many he drew on unused slips that Pasquale Vettriano provided to encourage young Jack’s love of art.
Jack had a close bond with Pasquale, who left Italy as a boy when his parents emigrated from Lazio in 1904. Known to all as ‘Big Pete’, he was a regular visitor to a bookie’s shop in Leven, where he indulged his love of horseracing.
Drawings of a boat –next to a starfish and a whale – and of a man beside an ambulance are signed ‘To pop from Jack’. The drawings are displayed next to a black and white photograph of the pair, dressed for a special occasion, and taken in Leven in 1959 or 1960.
“I’ve been drawing pretty much as long as I can remember,” the artist says. “For a boy that liked to doodle and get ideas down on paper, those betting slips were ideal.
“Pop loved the horses and, when we visited his home, he would have an ear cupped towards the television set, watching the racing intently.
“He knew if he gave me the slips, I would start to draw – so he would stuff his pockets full of them at the bookie’s and bring a wad back to the house.”
Says Vettriano: “Pop was a quiet man and a gentle soul, who knew that I loved to create pictures, and I know he would have been proud to have seen the exhibition.
For more on the exhibition, see www.onfife.com

Evocative images of Fife’s vanished industrial landscapes feature in an exhibition that celebrates a much-loved artist’s 80th birthday. 

Evocative images of Fife’s vanished industrial landscapes feature in an exhibition that celebrates a much-loved artist’s 80th birthday.

Artworks by James Marshall Dickson that capture the Kingdom’s lost railway and mining heritage are on show at Lochgelly Centre until 28 February.

Paintings and photographs spanning the artist’s career feature in the free exhibition, which includes many watercolour scenes inspired by childhood memories.

The Kirkcaldy-born artist, who lives in Lochgelly, has exhibited across the UK for many years and his work is included in a number of local authority art collections.

Mr Dickson has also run art classes at Lochgelly Centre and has strong ties with the local community. His enthusiasm has inspired people of all ages to pick up a paintbrush and discover art for themselves.

Industrial landscapes were all around him in his early years. “The sight, sound, colour and texture of industry was everywhere,” the artist remembers.

“This had a strong visual impact on me and, in adult years. I came back to this imagery – working in water-based media but using rollers and a large variety of textural media to give the surfaces my work requires.

He vividly recalls drawing the pit at the bottom of the playground during higher art classes at Beath High and, on leaving school, he pursued his passion for painting at Edinburgh College of Art.

While studying in Edinburgh, he met future leading lights of the Scottish art scene, such as Fife-born Sandy Moffat and Port Seton’s John Bellany.

Dickson went into teaching after college and was encouraged to continue painting by the head of the art department at Ballingry Junior High School, Davy Lockhart.

Find out how James Marshall Dickson became interested in industrial landscapes and hear him explain how his painting Monument to the Michael was created: Click Here

 

An exciting new project has been launched to involve the community in shaping how Kirkcaldy’s Adam Smith Theatre is used in future years.

Called Relevant: Adam Smith, the initiative will run over the next seven months and will be a mixture of online interaction and face-to-face sessions with regular users of the theatre, people from the wider community and business representatives. 

It’s all aimed at making sure the services provided by OnFife at the Adam Smith reflect the needs of the community.

“We want to create a vibrant and creative space at the heart of the community and one that is welcoming and inclusive,” said Michelle Sweeney, OnFife’s Director of Creative Development.

“To help achieve this, we want people’s voices to be heard and Relevant: Adam Smith is a creative consultation project that will work with staff, key stakeholder groups and the wider public to explore the building’s spaces and services.

“It is focused squarely on engaging with people and giving them a platform to have their say about how this much-loved theatre is developed in a way that is relevant to them.

“This in turn will shape our long-term planning and help us make sure the Adam Smith – not just the theatre auditorium but all the spaces in the building – is providing what our community needs and wants.”

The project has its own dedicated website at www.relevantonfife.co.uk, which will carry weekly blogs from guest contributors and regular polls and surveys on a variety of topics relevant to the theatre. People can also connect via Twitter on @relevantonfife. In the new year, there will be a series of workshop-type meetings to work more closely with people and gather more opinions.

“We would love anyone interested in the future of the Adam Smith Theatre to get involved but we also want to hear from people who haven’t used it in the past because it should also be a place that is relevant to them,” said Michelle.

Relevant: Adam Smith is the first of three community engagement projects OnFife will be undertaking in the kingdom after being awarded more than £240,000 from the Creative Scotland Recovery Fund for Cultural Organisations. The award will fund two key areas of post-pandemic work over the next 24 months – how the cultural charity re-engages with audiences with services relevant to the needs of communities and exploring ways it can diversify its income generation.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, this funding from Creative Scotland provides a golden opportunity to help plan services for the future that are relevant and which will strengthen our financial sustainability,” said Michelle.

 

An exhibition that has introduced vast numbers of gallery-goers to gems in one of Scotland’s finest art collections is being extended. 

A dazzling array of paintings managed by cultural charity OnFife features in Brushstrokes – which was complementing the Jack Vettriano retrospective at Kirkcaldy Galleries – will now run until 9 January.

Jack Vettriano: The Early Years ended last Sunday (23 October).

Curator Lesley Lettice says: “Lots of visitors to the Jack Vettriano show were blown away by what’s on show in the adjacent two galleries – and, for many, it’s been their first glimpse of our amazing permanent collection.”

Brushstrokes features 21 paintings by the ever-popular Scottish Colourists – Francis Cadell, J D Fergusson, John Leslie Hunter and Samuel Peploe – and eight by renowned landscape artist William McTaggart.

Included in the blend of traditional and modern works are paintings by acclaimed artists such as Alison Watt, Joan Eardley and Anne Redpath. Among the other leading names from 20th century Scottish art are John Bellany, Robin Philipson and Fife’s own John Houston.

Galleries staff have chosen several of the exhibits and written texts to accompany their selections. QR codes let audiences learn more about many of the artists and their works.

Brushstrokes is family friendly. Visitors are welcome to access an art cart loaded with books, colouring sheets, craft activities, a giant jigsaw and a quiz game.

“I’m not much of a gallery-goer and have never been here before,” wrote one visitor in the comments book. “I came for the Jack Vettriano show but thoroughly enjoyed Brushstrokes.”

Another commented: “Brushstrokes is excellent. I didn’t realise you had so many paintings – I will come back with family and friends. It makes me proud to live in Kirkcaldy.”

Others praised its inclusivity: “I enjoyed the witty, insightful interpretations of each painting and the staff picks labels – very helpful for those of us not from an ‘arty’ background.”

Many have welcomed its broad appeal: “It’s nice to see activities for families to enjoy. My grandkids loved the quiz. And there are so many famous names to get close up to.”

Visitors have had a chance to suggest which paintings might feature in future displays at Kirkcaldy. Audiences can tell staff which works appeal to them most, and curators will use gallery-goers’ feedback to inform their choices when the Galleries are rehung next year.

“We wanted to use Brushstrokes to engage with our audience and we’re pleased that has happened,” says Lesley Lettice. “I’ve spent a lot of time chatting to visitors and this has given us a clear idea about what they like and what they want to see in future.”

After closing in Kirkcaldy, Brushstrokes will transfer to St Andrews Museum in early spring, once the building’s current refurbishment programme has been completed.