29 March 1891|
23 April 1956 (aged 65)|
Cecile Walton was a Scottish artist and illustrator who was organiser of the BBC's Scottish Children's Hour from 1932 to 1936.
Daughter of the Scottish artist Edward Arthur Walton, one of the original 'Glasgow Boys', Cecile Walton was immersed in art from childhood. At an early age her family moved to London, where she began her art studies. She also attended the Edinburgh College of Art (1908–1910), studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris and spent some time in Florence.
In 1912, she obtained her own studio in Torphichen Street, Edinburgh. The only woman to exhibit with the Edinburgh Group in 1913, she was one of their most feted members at subsequent shows in 1919, 1920 and 1921. She exhibited at the RA and the RSA, winning the latter's Guthrie prize in 1921. Much admired for her imaginative figure paintings, with their "decorative effect and skill of execution" (Scotsman, 1921), she also produced children's book illustrations.
Against her parents' advice, she married her fellow Edinburgh student, Eric Robertson (1887–1941) in 1914. Having abandoned architecture and turned to art, Robertson had been described as “one of the most brilliant art students of his period”. They had two sons: Gavril, born February 1915, and Edward, born December 1919. Both feature in Walton's work, including her striking self-portrait Romance (1920, SNPG), in which she depicts herself as a latter-day Olympia, critically inspecting her younger son.
After Robertson returned from ambulance service in the First World War, their bohemian lifestyle became the talk of Edinburgh. With fellow painter, Dorothy Johnstone, whom Walton had met at Edinburgh School of Art, the couple formed a ménage à trois that was said to be "both artistic and physical", but which foundered in 1923 due to Eric's excessive drinking, and Walton moved in with Johnstone. The marriage ended in divorce in 1927.
Walton virtually lost her inspiration to paint as a result of the separation and she lived a peripatetic life with her sons. Eric's career also collapsed after their separation, and he eventually succumbed to alcohol. In 1926, she diversified into theatre design by designing scenery for Tyrone Guthrie at the Festival Theatre, Cambridge. She also began working for BBC radio.
Walton joined the BBC's Scottish Region in 1932 as organiser of the Edinburgh Children's Hour, where she was known as 'Auntie Wendy'. The Scottish Regional Director, David Cleghorn Thomson, wrote that during her first year she effected a marked increase in the all-round standard of the Children's Hour, which reaped its reward in a 30 per cent increase in the numbers of the Radio Circle from about 6,000 to 8,000:
Miss Walton has introduced on her part a number of novel features, a group of original plays, a series of children's vaudeville performances, and a running commentary on dirt-track and speed-boat racing. She has raised considerably the standard of the singing during the Hour, both as regards diction and musicianship, and I agree with her report to Mr Stobart, where she says that an increasing number of better-class children are listening. She is now concentrating of the development of membership in the country areas.
Her programme was a much more formal affair than it had been under her predecessor Kathleen Garscadden. There were no conundrums or inconsequential ad-libbing, for example, and critics called it cold and unfriendly. Howard Lockhart, who took part in the programme after he became an announcer in Edinburgh from 1935, wrote:
But Wendy's programmes were packed with material, mostly historical or legendary, and nothing was left to chance. Cecile Walton was a lady of wide cultural perception and sympathetic understanding. She was an idealist, a dreamer. "Wendy's rather vague," people would say. This was quite inaccurate. Abstracted, yes, but not vague.
Walton gradually took over the role of producer, leaving the actual presentation of the programmes in subordinate hands.
Walton's marriage to Gildard ended in divorce in 1948, after which she retired to Kirkcudbright to paint. Her painting, having declined in output and inspiration, had begun to attract attention again, particularly her North African watercolours, at the time of her death in 1956.
The Glasgow Herald described her as "the painter many regard as the finest Scottish woman artist of this century".
A 1991 exhibition featured about 35 of her paintings, including some exquisite book illustrations, but some 20 major works in oil remain untraced. The Edinburgh art historian John Kemplay has written and photographic evidence that up to the end of the 1920s Walton had produced at least half a dozen important works, which now seem to be lost.
- More Lives than One, Cecile Walton, unpublished memoir (NLS: 10425: 1950)
- The Two Companions: the story of two Scottish artists, Eric Robertson and Cecile Walton, John Kemplay (Ronald Crowhurst, 1991)
- Scottish Regional Director to Director, Programmes, 'Progress Report: Programmes', 16 February 1933, BBC WAC R34/869/1.
- Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 24.
- 'If this is just a taste of her work, imagine what's been lost...', Glasgow Herald, 19 November 1991.
|Scottish Children's Hour organiser
| Succeeded by|