Artist offers fresh perspective on Mary Queen of Scots' tragic life

Kirsteen Paterson, The National, 7 September 2018

The story of Mary Queen of Scots is reimagined in a powerful new exhibition.

 

It took artist Helen Flockhart a year to complete her 17-painting series of one of the country’s most enduring figures.

 

The result, a highly stylised collection rich with colour and symbolism, goes on show next week.

 

The exhibition, titled Linger Awhile, opens at Edinburgh’s Arusha Gallery next Friday before transferring to Linlithgow in October.

 

The shows come before the January release of a Hollywood movie starring Ireland’s Saoirse Ronan as the monarch and Australia’s Margot Robbie as her cousin Elizabeth.

 

A spokesperson for the capital gallery said: “The works in Linger Awhile stem from Flockhart’s fascination with the controversies, legends and divided opinions — even among today’s historians — that surround the figure of Mary, Queen of Scots.

 

“The minutely painted scenes and colourful portraits weave myths with historical facts, and feature Mary, recognisable with her auburn-red hair and near six foot tall stature, as a woman filled with hopes and aspirations.”

 

Rendered in oil, the pieces each took several months to create.

 

In one, Mary wears a dress bearing a pattern that charts her escape from Loch Leven Castle. Flockhart shows the Linlithgow-born monarch pushing a boat containing small figures in reference to the miscarriage of twins suffered while held at the site.

 

In another, titled I See and Keep Silent, her green outfit bears a map and the leaves behind her contain open eyes.

 

And in Lachrymose Window, Mary’s dress is “heavy with narratives”, including a crow to symbolise Reformation figurehead John Knox, a dolphin for her first husband Francis, the French Dauphin, and elements of an “inflammatory” poster which emerged after her wedding to the Earl of Bothwell.

 

That union, which followed the assassination of her second spouse Lord Darnley, galvanised her opponents and helped bring about her downfall.

 

The dress takes in images of a hare, which relates to Bothwell’s coat of arms, and a mermaid, symbolising a prostitute.

 

According to Arusha Gallery: “Wearing her own legends, the images so jumbled up it is impossible to tell facts from tales, Mary sits patiently by a window covered in thick fern and ivy: a nod to the 19 years she spent incarcerated by Queen Elizabeth.”

 

Other depictions address her youth and the period before her execution in 1587.

Flockhart – a Glasgow School of Art alumnus who has exhibited in Europe and North America – said: “Immersing myself in the story of Mary, Queen of Scots plunged me into an imaginative place filled with such rich imagery that it propelled me through a whole year.

 

“I became particularly interested in the way her gender impacted on the events of her life and ultimately her death, and the strands which weave together to form the legend.”