AN Edinburgh gallery is preparing the first major exhibition in a century dedicated to the work of a Scots painter considered one of the most versatile artists of his generation.

Charles H. Mackie: Colour and Light brings together over fifty works from early landscapes of rural Kirkcudbright to grand scenes of Venice, painted in the years before his death in 1920 aged 58.

From his base in Edinburgh, Mackie travelled often, with edgy, international influences finding form in his oil paintings, watercolours, sculptures, prints, and murals.

Some of the latter were commissioned by Patrick Geddes for his Ramsay Garden complex on Castlehill, and Mackie also illustrated Geddes’s pioneering 1890s journal The Evergreen.

One of the first British artists to meet Paul Gauguin, Mackie’s colourful, Symbolist-influenced paintings and woodblock prints excited audiences and influenced the Glasgow Boys.

And yet Colour and Light at the City Art Centre is the first major respective of Mackie’s work since the artist’s memorial exhibition in 1921.

Curator Dr Helen Scott says the exhibition took years of detective work searching for Mackie’s art in private and public collections.

Highlights include several recently restored paintings such as Artis Ancilla, a large-scale composition of a nude reclining in the artist’s studio, which is part of the City Art Centre’s own collection. Other works are on loan from Perth Museum and Art Gallery, the National Galleries and the Royal Scottish Academy, where Mackie studied under landscape and marine painter William McTaggart.

Scott, who worked with Mackie biographer and researcher Pat Clark in tracing the work, says the reason he isn’t as well known as his friends Samuel Peploe or EA Hornel is partly down to paperwork.

“He doesn’t have a single archive where all of his correspondence and archival materials are gathered together, unlike that of other artists which have maybe been put together more coherently,” the curator says.

“Much of his work was scattered, and the more scattered an artist’s legacy is, the less likely it is to be shown to the public.

“That creates a self-perpetuating cycle where then there’s less research and less people who recognise the name. How certain names are remembered and certain ones are forgotten often seems arbitrary.”

Unfortunately, some of Mackie’s work was destroyed. Only a few of his Celtic revival murals survive – most were painted over. Just a couple of his sculptures remain, such as his vast Nymph and Fawn which has sat in the National Museum of Scotland since being restored in 2013.

At least one of his paintings was torn apart, says Scott; it was cut down by an owner who wanted to keep parts of Mackie’s large canvas, but tossed the rest.

Another reason that Mackie may be less remembered than his contemporaries is that this multi-skilled, ever-developing artist was too much his own man.

“Mackie was very well connected and lauded during his lifetime but being so versatile makes him very hard to categorise,” says Scott. “Although he was working in parallel with people like the Glasgow Boys and the Colourists, he was never part of a group. As an individual artist he was never following one particular trend of work, so he’s kind of fallen through the cracks. He’s mentioned in the history of Scottish art, but as almost a footnote.”

Colour and Light, timed to coincide with the centenary of Mackie’s death, sets out to re-evaluate the significance of an artist who introduced a generation to the revolution in art happening in France.

“He was one of the first painters in Britain to be in direct contact with the French Symbolists in the early 1890s,” says Scott. “He met Paul Serusier, Edouard Vuillard and Paul Gauguin. He was producing work in direct response to these encounters where he was employing much bolder colour, simplified forms, much different to the things he was producing before.

“In terms of making people more aware of French Symbolism, his work was really important. It’s also easy to forget now, looking back, but what he was doing, especially in his Symbolist and Celtic revival works, was really at the cutting edge of the time.”

May 16 to October 11, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, 10am to 5pm, free. Tel: 0131 529 3993.