Bell, James Torrington (1892-1970)

Bell, James Torrington (1892-1970)

James Torrington Bell was an accomplished Scottish landscape painter particularly admired for capturing the picturesque rolling views of Angus. Often travelling to locations on bike, with an easel strapped to his back, he tackled expansive lochs, winding tree-lined tracks, and dense woodlands with equal aplomb. His approach was broadly traditional but laid down in bold marks with confident colouring. In this respect, it’s reminiscent of James McIntosh Patrick OBE RSA, his local contemporary.

Bell was a keen contributor to the development of the arts and often gave lectures including at the Arbroath Art Society. Topics such as “Outdoor Sketching” and “The Art Of Seeing” were enthusiastically received. Alongside his artistic career, he worked as a bank manager and was also a keen golfer. He trained at the Edinburgh College of Art and exhibited at both the Royal Academy and Royal Scottish Academy.


Royal Academy, Royal Scottish Academy, solo exhibitions in Edinburgh and Dundee.

Public Collections

Science Museum, Fleet Air Arm Museum, Perth Art Gallery, Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum.



Born in Leven, Fife, Scotland, to James Bell, a fireman in a coal mine, and Margaret Bell (nee Marshall).


Lived in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, with his family.

Trained at the Edinburgh College of Art.

During the First World War, he served for three years as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy.


Moved to Carnoustie.

C. 1926

Began working as a bank manager.


Married Gertrude Winifred Thorburn in Edinburgh. The pair had at least two children.
Travelled to Marseilles with his wife.


Decorated the bank with several of his artworks.


Debuted at the Royal Academy with ‘The Red Coolins’ and ‘An Angus Farmstead’. He exhibited a total of ten works with the last shown in 1940.
Lived in Carnoustie, Angus.


Mentioned in the Broughty Ferry Guide and Advertiser.

“Mr Bell has done much to boost the beauties of Angus, but the scope of his work is not confined solely to this particular corner of Scotland. The Highlands have given him much of his inspiration, and his scenes range from a hump-backed bridge over a Glenesk tarn to beautiful Loch-an-Eilan, where Badenoch's castle is overlooked by grim rocky heights.”


Mentioned in the Broughty Ferry Guide and Advertiser.

“Mr James Torrington Bell, the well-known Carnoustie artist, has been invited by the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth, to exhibit, at its forthcoming exhibition of Works by Emin- ent Living Artists. The exhibition is from March 22 to June 9, and Mr Bell has been asked to show his oil study, Woodlands in Angus, which was hung on the line in the 1939 Royal Academy. Works are only shown at this exhibition by special invitation, and this is the second time Mr Bell has been so honoured.”


His solo exhibition at Dundee Art Galleries attracted over 7,000 visitors.


Mentioned in the Dundee Courier.

“Bank is an Art Gallery.

One hardly associates the dignified, strictly business atmosphere of a bank with strings of sightseers gazing at paintings. But in the National Bank of Scotland, Ltd., in Dundee Road, Carnoustie, the hand of the artist has attracted visitors from far and wide since the present bank opened in 1932. In the main banking hall, three panels measuring 4 feet by 4 feet reflect in oils three basic industries of Angus-fishing, farming and sheep-rearing.

Above the fireplace on the left is a study in tempera, ‘Glenesk.’ (Tempera is colours mixed with yolk of egg and water.) In the manager's sanctum hang ‘Braes of Downie’ and ‘The Temple of Light and Power.’ The former measures 30 inches by 40 inches, and is in oil in the pre-Raphaelite technique. It was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1938 and hung on the line. The scene looks down to the North Sea over the lands of Panmure.

‘The Temple of Light and Power’ depicts Pitlochry Dam and is in the tempera technique. It measures 40 inches by 50 inches. Yesterday, leaning against a wall of the office, was the impressive ‘Dirleton Castle,' a painting in oils with tempera heightening of the twelfth century stronghold near North Berwick. Visitors often bring a twinkle to the manager's eye when they tell him, ‘They're wonderfully well done. By the way, whose are they?’ ‘They're mine.’ ‘Yes, I know. But what I mean is, er, who painted them?’ ‘I did.’ ‘But-but you're a bank manager. How could-’

The bank manager is Mr James Torrington Bell, one of the foremost Scottish painters. His reason for decorating the walls of his bank was because, when the building was brand new, his æsthetic sense would not allow him to look at long blank spaces. Mr Bell tells this story:- Before, the war officers stationed at Barry used to go to see him and his paintings. All were captured at St Valery and spent weary years as prisoners. After the war Mr Bell had a visit from a colonel, one of the pre-war acquaintances. The colonel explained how, to keep their peckers up, he and his fellow officers of the Barry group used to talk about the Carnoustie banker and his paintings, and he had been deputed to visit the artist and see how he was getting on.

Several days ago a new branch of the Clydesdale and North of Scotland Bank was opened in Princes Street, Edinburgh, when comment was made on the innovation of decorating the bank walls with paintings. But Mr Torrington Bell had thought up that plan 20 years earlier at Carnoustie.”


Mentioned in the Broughty Ferry Guide and Advertiser.

“The paintings of James Torrington Bell, of Carnoustie, are the subject of an article by R. J. B. Sellar in the January issue of ‘The Scots Magazine.’ The article is illustrated by three full-colour reproductions of the artist's work and by seven in black and white. Mr Sellar writes: ‘It is Torrington Bell's primary virtue that his work gives great pleasure in showing ordinary people his vision of what we know. His mountains, his lochs and rivers, his farms and stackyards, his avenues of trees and his stone dykes are all inherently and unmistakably part of the Scottish scene... Bell has patience with meaningless patterns. He does not make an obscure smudge in the middle of a canvas and leave you to guess whether it is a camel in the desert or an Eskimo squatting by an ice-hole.’”


Mentioned in the Broughty Ferry Guide and Advertiser following his retirement from the National Bank of Scotland.

“Mr James Torrington Bell, manager of the Carnoustie branch of the National Bank of Scotland, is to retire at the end of November. He will continue to reside at his home, Woodlands, just outside the burgh boundary. It is 31 years since he became associated with the professional life of the town. He came to Carnoustie in 1926 as assistant agent to the late Mr David M. Kidd, and on Mr Kidd's retiral six months later took over the post of manager.

There have been considerable changes since then. When he first came the office was in the dwelling-house, Fairview, Dundee Street. A new office was planned and in this Mr Bell’s ability as an artist played a big part. He sketched out the proposed building, and it was on the lines of his drawings that the architect formed the final plans. The upshot was the erection of the banking and law offices in High Street, giving him one of the most imposing and commodious banking halls in any small Scottish town.

The new structure was opened in 1932 and Mr Bell at once proceeded to decorate it with his own paintings, an artistic achievement that has been referred to in complimentary terms by many banking and professional periodicals. On the Barry and Panbride Savings Bank being wound up in April, 1947, its building was also acquired by the National Bank, and is now rented to the municipality as the Public Library.

Carnoustie was no new territory to Mr Bell when he took over the branch. His father spent his boyhood days in the district, living, after his father's death, with an uncle at Travebank. Mr Bell was well conversant with the district through his father's early memories. Born in Leven, he began his career in the Leven Branch of the National Bank, of which his father was manager. For a short time he was in the head office in Dundee.

On the outbreak of World War One he obtained a commission in the Royal Navy. He served for 3 years under several distinguished Admirals and was a Staff Officer on his demobilisation. He resumed banking in the Leith Walk branch. From there he went to the Edinburgh West End branch, then on to Newington. From there he was entrusted with the onerous duty of opening a new branch in Methil, under the control of his father in Leven. It was from Methil that he went to Carnoustie.

He has been a man of many interests. He has pulled his weight in countless local concerns, giving his services not only gladly but with enthusiasm. He is a J.P. of the County of Angus, a well-deserved tribute to his standing. During the recent war he was treasurer of five National Savings campaigns, and was also treasurer of the local Church of Scotland Canteen.

His services as financial adviser have been keenly sought by many bodies, and during such events as the Open and Amateur Golf Championships he relieved the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of the responsibility of attending to gate money receipts.

Golf has always been his chosen recreation and here, again, he reached top level having been a scratch player both at Leven and Carnoustie. In both these hot-beds of the game he reached the finals of the leading competitions, and was for a time Leven course record-holder. But through all his successful professional and golfing life he has never deserted his first and greatest love - painting. In spite of the circumscribed time he had to devote to it, he has established his name in the forefront of Scottish artists.

His works have been exhibited in the Royal Academy, London, and the Scottish Academy, Edinburgh. He has given one-man shows in Edinburgh and Dundee, and has had his works shown at many outstanding invitation exhibitions. He was chosen to paint the picture which Angus gifted to the Queen on the occasion of her wedding. Recently he was commissioned to paint a picture of a Perthshire v. Forfarshire cricket match on the Perth North Inch as a gift from the Scottish Cricket Union to the M.C.C. to hang in their famous cricketing gallery at Lords.

Mr Bell is a member of the Dundee Institute of Fine Arts and a Governor of the Dundee College of Art and Technology. As a lecturer on art his services are in constant demand, and he has spoken to art clubs, Rotary clubs and other organisations over a wide area. It goes without saying that his forthcoming leisure will be largely devoted to the pursuit of art. Mr Bell's retiral will be regretted by the large clientele he has built up, and they, in common with the whole town, will join in wishing him the best of health for a long and happy retiral, so well earned.”


Lived in Aberdeen, Angus.

Mentioned in the Broughty Ferry Guide and Advertiser.

“Mr James Torrington Bell, the well-known Carnoustie artist, has two pictures in the current show of the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh. It was a tribute to him that he sent in two, and both were accepted. Mr Bell’s home is a biscuit-toss from Carnoustie House grounds and his artistic sense sees beauty there which he passionately wishes to have protected from the ‘build at any price’ brigade. Both his R.S.A. oils have this parkland as their subject.

The larger of the two, ‘The Laird's Stables,’ is an impressive work, bold and eye-catching in its rich colouring. It has been paid the supreme compliment of being hung ‘on the line.’ The smaller picture, ‘Carnoustie Park,’ is also advantageously hung and presents a typical aspect of this beautifully wooded public ground. It is pleasing to know that Mr Bell is well maintaining his high reputation and no less pleasing that he is keeping his adopted town so handsomely in the limelight.”


Died in Carnoustie, Angus.

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