GMB portrait restored thanks to labour of love
One of the best known portraits of George Mackay Brown has been returned to its former glory and has gone on show in Orkney once again.
The painting is by the Edinburgh-based artist Alexander (Sandy) Moffat, formerly Head of Painting at Glasgow School of Art, who volunteered his services when he heard it was in need of restoration.
Painted in 1980, the portrait of the poet and writer has been on show at Stromness Academy for more than 20 years as part of Orkney Islands Council’s Art in Public Places scheme.
Last year, it was lent to the Pier Arts Centre for Portrait of Stromness – a Burgh of Barony 200 Anniversary Exhibition, before being shown at the Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie and the Montrose Museum and Art Gallery.
“When the painting was taken down, it was discovered it had suffered some water damage,” said Orkney Museum Curator, Rachel Boak.
“We were delighted when Sandy made the generous offer to restore the painting at his studio in Edinburgh.
“We are very pleased that, thanks to his efforts, it has returned to Orkney in mint condition, and is on show once again.”
A temporary display has been set up in the Drawing Room of the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall to give people the chance to see the newly restored painting.
The work is one of a group of seven portraits of the major poets of the Scottish literary renaissance commissioned from Sandy by the Scottish Arts Council.
He travelled to Stromness in 1980 and spent a week making a series of sketches of George, some in the poet’s living room surrounded by books, others in the bar of the former Braes Hotel.
“I wanted the painting to have a uniquely Orkney setting and that’s why the hotel sketches, with Stromness and Scapa Flow as their backdrop, are reflected in the final portrait,” Sandy said.
“George was an easy subject to work with. We’d met in Edinburgh the early 1960s and we had a good catch up, with George keen to hear news of the other poets he knew from that time.”
When Sandy heard that the portrait, almost 40 years after it was painted, needed some restorative work, he was keen to undertake this himself.
“It’s been a labour of love,” he said. “It can seem rather daunting at first, but the process of returning the painting to the way it first looked has been very satisfying and I’m delighted with the final results.
“There’s been tremendous enthusiasm when I’ve told people about restoring the portrait – especially among painters and poets – and that reflects the affection and respect there is for George and his work.”