Apparently based on a conversation Douthwaite observed at a Suffolk village fete, the heavily stylised figures portray the privilege and violence she saw in the men of county society.
“I imagine these incredibly powerful and wicked-looking characters are the squire and game keeper,” says Guy Peploe of The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, where the latest show of Douthwaite works, On the Edge, opens on February 4 for a month.
“Her examination of the human psyche and behaviour was very raw and visceral. She revelled in the description of herself as high priestess of the grotesque,” says Peploe, who knew the artist well and has written a book on her.
As with fellow Scot Joan Eardley, it is difficult to pin her to any school or movement, though her ‘primitive’ style and struggles with mental health link her work with Dubuffet’s Art Brut and Outsider Art.
Born in Paisley into a conservative, middle-class family, Douthwaite was aware of feeling different from a young age and found her freedom and vocation in dance and art classes.
Self-taught with the encouragement of Scottish Colourist JD Fergusson and his partner Margaret Morris in Glasgow, Douthwaite mingled and be-friended the likes of William Crozier and ‘The Two Roberts’ (Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde), while living in Essex and Suffolk in the late 1950s.
In Essex she met Edward Bawden, John Aldridge and Michael Ayrton while at Michael Rothenstein’s graphic workshop at Great Bardfield.
In later years, Douthwaite lived a peripatetic existence, constantly on the move in Scotland and the north of England. Without a permanent studio, she found it hard to paint in oils and instead primarily worked on paper. She died alone in 2002, of heart failure in bed and breakfast accommodation in a suburb of Dundee, two days short of her 68th birthday.
Though she landed exhibitions at major London galleries such as The Institute of Contemporary Arts and The Hanover Gallery (Francis Bacon’s main dealers), she recoiled at commercial success and was deeply mistrustful of the art world.
“She would always bite the hand that fed her, yet this inbuilt destructive aspect to Pat Douthwaite was a core part of her creativity and how she saw herself,” says Peploe.
The artist’s combative character and non-commercial approach made her less marketable than other painters and recognition of her work suffered.
Yet with the market always on the look-out for undervaluation, particularly among women artists, prices on the secondary market have risen over the last decade (an auction high of £8200 was achieved at Bonhams in 2017 while The Scottish Art Gallery has sold works for over £10,000 or more).
Peploe describes buyers of her work as “real collectors who are not looking to match the curtains”.
On the Edge is drawn from the contents of the artist’s studio, which the gallery bought from Phillips auction house in Edinburgh in the early 1990s before it was due to be offered on the rostrum.
Oils and works on paper stretching back to the 1950s depict a variety of themes including Mary Queen of Scots, art historian Bernard Berenson and aviator Amy Johnson.
Woman with a Reptile (c.1970) is one of many Douthwaite painted of the female form accompanied by a creature – “a sort of Pullmanian daemon”, says Peploe. Though she did not identify with feminism, Douthwaite celebrated female power and it became the most significant subject throughout her life.
Abstract collages and landscapes are also offered. One of the earliest works for sale, Village Taxi (1960-64),was painted during a period of loneliness for the artist when she was pregnant, living in poverty in rural East Anglia, and the local taxi was the only means of getting to the shop.