Living Lines, Auld Alliances

Project: Research

Project Details


The 'Auld Alliance' between Scotland and France has been the topic of sporadic scholarly research which has focused particularly on the historical and literary connections between the two countries. Many gaps in our knowledge of this relationship still exist, however. 'Living Lines, Auld Alliances' seeks to extend our knowledge of this topic by privileging, in particular, the role of Scottish painters, those moments when Scots have looked hard at French canvases, landscapes, people and had something distinctive to 'say' about them. For centuries, Scottish artists have attempted to find new perspectives in the not entirely foreign, the strange yet familiar worlds of their neighbours. My approach, however, will not be that of traditional art history but will take the form of poems written in response to canvases looked at, to correspondence buried in archives and libraries, to biographies of the artists lives and studies of their work. What might the full, poetic expansion of S.J.Peploe's remark in a letter to his parents be like: 'I am beginning to see how to paint Cassis'. Why is he only 'beginning'? And how will painting Iona be different? Carrying out this research, I also wish to ask whether there are particular benefits to be derived by approaching this topic via the medium of poetry rather than that of scholarly prose. How do these two different types of discourse relate to each other in this context? The poems I will write will seek to offer fresh knowledge about the paintings and painters in question but will attempt also to articulate how the artists' methods may relate to my own compositional strategies and to reflect on poetry as a means of research. The aim, therefore, will not be to reflect parasitically on art objects that already exist but to invent something new that relates imaginatively to them in a manner that is critically alert to the aesthetics of its own creation. An inevitable consequence of this approach will be an exploration of the ways in which poetry may be used to conduct, embody and express historical research in a sophisticated but accessible and entertaining manner, extending our knowledge of specific forms such as the dramatic monologue and poetic sequence.

Key findings

This project consisted in the composition of a substantial sequence of poems about paintings. This practice-led research project explored the cultural and artistic links between Scotland and France over five centuries focussing on the work of Scottish painters and visual artists who were influenced by or chose to interact with French artistic models. It led to the publication of a book of poetry, entitled, Finger of a Frenchman (Carcanet, 2011) and a critical article which documents the key findings. These may be summarised as follows: the composition of original poetry about both well known and entirely neglected Scottish artists and artefacts and the discovery of the inadequacy of certain types of lyric form. As the writing of the sequence progressed, it became clear that only a particular kind of prose-poetry was able to do full justice to the complexity of the visual art in question. This is a type of prose that mixes the lyric 'voice' with critical discourse producing an unusual form of 'ekphrasis', the verbal representation of visual art.
Effective start/end date1/02/0831/05/08


  • AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council): £15,444.00


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