'By gazing at it, I am given a lesson in music.'

Landscape in the Orkneys, 1954, by Stanley Cursiter RSA, CBE (1887–1976), 2¼ft by 3ft, Government Art Collection

Evelyn Glennie says:

‘I have experienced the magic of the Orkneys first-hand, not least because many of my family live around Hoy. To me, this painting represents a piece of sound-music.

‘The extreme textures in the landscape are akin to sound colour. The isolation and shape of the farm on top of the cliff suggest a legato phrase; the sea is like shimmering strings. This expressive, yet lifelike, scene gives the painting a performative quality.

‘It is being “performed” in front of us so that we may compose our own piece of music from the acute detail and sweeping phrases. The rhythm of the painting offers a sense of forever moving forward and back in time with the elements. It is timeless.

‘This image makes me feel the power of Nature and Nature’s rhythm. By gazing at it, I am given a lesson in music.’

Dame Evelyn Glennie is a solo percussionist. Profoundly deaf, she has honed the ability to feel sound using her body as a resonating chamber.

John McEwen says:

Stanley Cursiter successfully combined an artistic, cartographic and administrative career. He was born in Kirkwall, Orkney, the son of a baker and spirit merchant who died when he was nine, and educated at Kirkwall Grammar School. When at school, he voluntarily gained a certificate in Advanced Building Construction.

He went to Edinburgh, hoping to study architecture, but could not afford it and settled for an apprenticeship with a firm of lithographers and printers, as well as attending courses at Edinburgh College of Art. By 1909, he was earning a living as a painter and designer.

In 1913, he dabbled in avant-garde Italian Futurism and his seven pictures in this dynamic style ironically remain academically his most acclaimed—in 2016, one of them, The Ribbon Counter, achieved his record auction price: £336,000. Symptomatically, he simultaneously made lithographs of Orcadian subjects in the spare but conventional style of D. Y. Cameron.During the First World War, Cursiter saw active service with the Scottish Rifles.

Convalescence after the Somme led to a military OBE for innovative work on the vital need for accurate maps and photographs; a CBE followed in the Second World War, when he oversaw map production. He was director of the National Galleries of Scotland from 1930 to 1948—the last artist to hold this post—and, from 1948 until his death in 1976, HM Painter and Limner for Scotland.
There is a Gaelic saying: ‘The bird sings sweetest where it was born.’

Despite his vital service in both World Wars, his substantial administrative duties and success in various styles of painting, including society portraiture, it was his love of the Orcadian landscape that prevailed.