Obituary: Harry More Gordon, artist

Harry More Gordon: Talented, popular watercolour artist who was in great demand for his still lives and portraits
Harry More Gordon: Talented, popular watercolour artist who was in great demand for his still lives and portraits
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Born: 25 October, 1928. Died: 17 November, 2015, aged 87

Harry More Gordon, who has died aged 87, was a distinguished and most successful watercolour artist. He did not have an easy childhood, his parents having divorced when he was six, and he was brought up by his grandmother in Angus.

As a choral scholar, he enjoyed St George’s School Windsor, but he was not entirely suited to the then emphasis on rugby at Loretto, nor did he much enjoy his spell in the army or national service.

He went to the Edinburgh College of Art in 1949 and if he had not quite fitted in at school and in the army, he was immediately at home at the college, where later he was to spend much of his working life.

Robert Steedman, the architect, a contemporary both at school and at college, remembers collaborating with him for the Revels each year. His contemporaries were a lively and creative group, many of them ex-servicemen, and amongst them was Elizabeth Blackadder, John Houston and Ricky Demarco.

On graduating, he went to London, met Marianne and they married on 14 September, 1957. His father-in-law, not surprisingly, demanded that he had a job and, this time surprisingly, he was employed by The Muck Spreader Journal.

From there he progressed to House and Garden and to Vogue, where he became layout editor. In the early 1960s he was appointed head of illustration at the Edinburgh College of Art and he taught there until retiring early to allow more time for his developing career as an artist.

Having told Marianne that he didn’t mind what part of Edinburgh they would live in as long as it was not Musselburgh, they purchased the Manor House in nearby Inveresk and this, until his death, was their very happy family home.

Robert Dalrymple, the designer, tells of his time at the College of Art when Harry, teaching design, would peer over his shoulder at this work and say: “Oh dear.” But both he and the artist Hugh Buchanan say that they learned from Harry just by watching him paint, “without pencil and with a watercolour brush he would begin with the pupil of an eye and work out from that, immediately getting a likeness.”

Many commissioned portraits from him, amongst them Lord Harewood, Gian Carlo Menotti, Elizabeth Blackadder, Clarissa Dickson Wright, Alexander Armstrong, Hugh Buchanan and Frederick Ashton.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery has four of his portraits. James Holloway, until his recent retirement as director there, says: “I can do no better than to repeat what I wrote in the catalogue for the exhibition of his work, Cut and Dried, at the gallery – More Gordon is celebrated for his ability to penetrate with wit and grace the character and quirks of his sitters, capturing their unguarded, telling gestures.

“Part of the pleasure of his portraits are the carefully observed still life details which transform each portrait into social commentary.”

His comments on some of those he painted were perspective, often best not repeated and invariably apt. He kept a diary, full of sketches and comments. Could it, one day, carefully edited, be published?

He visited by invitation the festivals arranged by Gian Carlo Menotti at Spoleto in Italy and at Charleston in the United States, and there received commissions for portraits.

His agent in London was the Francis Kyle Gallery and there he had frequent and successful solo exhibitions of portraits and still life paintings. It is said that his still life style influenced others.

Harry More Gordon had countless friends. He was outgoing and always fun. Well dressed and an excellent dancer, he loved parties and parties loved him.

He remained fit and young looking until he became a victim of Alzheimer’s – of this he was never heard to complain and remained calm and cheerful until in the last year when the disease took its final grip. He once said to his wife Marianne: “I made the most of a small talent.” How wrong. Harry and his work will be long remembered.

He is survived by Marianne, by his son Harry, by his daughters Domenica and Zilla, and by his grandchildren Jack, Ariadne and Dashka.