My favourite painting: Annie Sloan

The author and paint company founder loves this Cubism-inspired still life for its colour and contradiction.

Annie Sloan on Still Life by Robert MacBryde

‘I adore this painting for its use of colour and contradiction. Even sticking to a rather limited palette, it manages to be inventive and challenging. The femininity of the melon juxtaposes with the masculinity of the backgammon board intriguingly and the mystery of the scene is heightened by those two looming shadows in the foreground. The painting owes something to Cubism and Surrealism; two schools with which I have long felt an affinity.

MacBryde came from the same part of Ayrshire as my father, which is what first interested me in his work. My father loved the Surrealists (Gauguin in particular) and it comforted me that two men from the same cold, distinctly “real” part of the world both felt a strong connection to this fantastical art movement born so far from home.’

Annie Sloan is an author, colour expert and the founder of her eponymous paint company.

Charlotte Mullins comments on Still Life

A roughly hewn wooden table resides a sage-green platter. A halved melon balances on top, seeds peppering the ripe flesh. Alongside, a folded backgammon board echoes the fruit’s green tones. Several counters appear as flat white and black discs across the painting’s surface and the melon’s black centre looks like the soundhole of a Picasso guitar.

The nod to Picasso is deliberate. This still life by Robert MacBryde is teeming with Cubist tricks of the eye. The table’s convincing wood grain, the trompe l’oeil ‘fold’ of the board — MacBryde was so inspired by Picasso and Braque’s Cubism that, at one point, he was nicknamed MacBraque.

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MacBryde was born in Ayrshire in Scotland as Cubism reached its apogee in Paris. The son of a labourer, he left school at 15 and worked in a factory before winning a scholarship to study at the Glasgow School of Art. On his first day, he met Robert Colquhoun, a fellow painter who became his lifelong partner. Together, they studied in Glasgow and toured Europe before settling in London.

The artists were part of the Bohemian Soho set with Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon in the 1940s, were photographed by Vogue and courted by Tate. But heavy drinking, decreasing sales and caring for Colquhoun led to a decline in the number of works MacBryde was able to complete in his later years.

He died broken-hearted and penniless in Ireland aged 52, four years after Colquhoun drank and painted himself to death.

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