The Turn of the Tide

John Duncan


Much of Duncan’s work was shaped by his interest in Celtic art, the Pre-Raphaelitism of Rossetti and Burne-Jones, and the early Italian Renaissance. All three influences contribute to the haunting beauty of this work which is filled with Duncan’s characteristic blend of otherworldliness and strangely arid naturalism. The islands in the distance (a frequent feature in his art) and the pensive foreground figure suggest an episode of high romance from Celtic or Norse legend; the use of tempera (which historically predated that of oil paint in Western art) gives the painting a somewhat primitive appearance; and the chaste yet alluring heroine has a profile that seems to have come straight from early Italian art.

  • Artist

    John Duncan

  • Date


  • Medium

    Tempera on panel

  • Object number


  • Dimensions unframed

    44 × 59 cm

  • Dimensions framed

    57 × 72.5 × 6 cm

  • Marks

    Signed bottom right


John Duncan RSA RSW, 1866-1945

Born in Dundee, Duncan attended evening classes at Dundee School of Art from the age of eleven. He spent seven years working as an illustrator for Dundee newspapers and a further three years in London doing what he called "hack work". He saw his future as a painter. Study in Antwerp under Charles Verlat and then in Düsseldorf was followed by an extended visit to Italy, which had a profound effect on him. On his return he met Patrick Geddes, polymath and leading light of the Celtic Renascence movement, and as a result became deeply involved in Symbolist and decorative painting in its purest form. He had a fertile imagination and exulted in depicting Celtic and Norse legends in a purity and beauty of colour. He also executed landscapes and, later, church altarpieces and wall decorations, and designed stained glass.