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Craigie Aitchison

John Ronald Craigie Aitchison was born in Edinburgh on the 13th January 1926, the second son of Craigie Mason Aitchison, a prominent socialist lawyer who became Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland, and Charlotte Forbes Jones. The family spent summer holidays on the Isle of Arran from the early 1930s overlooking Holy Island and Goatfell peak, the silhouette of which would later recur in his landscape settings. From 1936-41, Craigie was educated at Loretto School, Musselburgh, then following his father’s death at Basil Paterson & Ainslie in Edinburgh. Having left school in 1943, the artist escaped conscription being discharged on medical grounds.

Aitchison studied History at Edinburgh University from 1944-46, then Law at Middle Temple in London in 1948. Disenchanted with his studies, he took up the private tuition of artists Adrian Daintrey, then Gerhart Frankl in 1951, before attending the Slade School of Fine Art, initially on a part-time basis from 1952-54, his contemporaries including Euan Uglow (1932-2000). In 1953 he was awarded the annual Slade School Prize for best still life. Two years later he won a British Council Italian Government Scholarship for painting and travelled to Italy with fellow Slade student Myles Murphy (b. 1927) in a vintage London taxi. Italy was to leave a lasting impression on his work, in particular the colours of the Tuscan and Umbrian landscape. Aitchison moved back to his Mother’s house in Tulliallan, Fife after his travels, moving with her to Kennington, London in 1963. He held his first solo exhibition in 1959 at the Beaux Arts Gallery, London. In 1975 he bought Montecastelli, a farmhouse in San Gusme, near Siena and lived there for 18 months, after which he returned to Kennington.

Aitchison was awarded the Edwin Austin Premier Scholarship for Painting in 1970. In 1974 he was a prize winner at the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition. In 1982 he won the Johnson Wax Award at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition for most outstanding painting. In 1994 he won the Jerwood Prize. In 1997 Aitchison was commissioned to paint four panels in the chapel of St Margaret in Truro Cathedral, the following year he was commissioned to paint a Calvary for Liverpool Cathedral.

There have been several major retrospectives of his work at the Serpentine Gallery London in 1981, Harewood House Leeds in 1994, the Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow in 1996 and the Royal Academy of Art London in 2003. He was elected an Associate Royal Academician in 1978 and a full RA in 1988. In 1999 he was appointed a CBE.