Of the many events in Glasgow's Year of European City of Culture few endured longer than the William Hardie Gallery launched in 1990.
In the following decade Hardie would mount, with his assistant Fiona Roberston, art exhibitions from home and abroad. He brought David Hockney and his latest pictures over from California and attracted 10,0000 visitors. Hardie proved that a commercial gallery in Glasgow could be a player on the world stage, as well as a promoter of Scottish art. In one stroke this cultural commando scotched the slurs of those Thames Valley Provincials whose line was: "Scottish painting – does it exist?"
William Hardie, who has died at 79, was born with an eye for art and an ear for languages, opera and jazz. His mother Helen née Roberston, known as Nell, was an accomplished artist who painted over 200 watercolour studies of wild flowers. Archie Hardie, CBE was a successful Shell executive who moved his family round England, returning to Glasgow in 1957 to become Chairman of Irvine New Town.
Hardie attended Glasgow Academy where a school contemporary was the future art historian Neil MacGregor, who, when encountering Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dalí at 10, had his art epiphany. Bill's enthusiastic essay on the same picture won him a school prize. Yet when Tom Honeyman, the director of Kelvingrove Gallery acquired the picture in 1952, he was vilified by the British art world. Those two schoolboys were the better judges and were destined to go far promoting art.
After two years on the Continent Hardie was a competent French and German speaker. He studied their respective literatures at the University of Glasgow, along with art courses with Hamish Miles, who suggested meeting Professor Young of the Fine Art Department. Being a Whistler expert, Andrew McLaren Young had retuned from Washington DC, curating the artist's retrospective in Washington DC. He gave Hardie the task of transcribing the artist's voluminous correspondence, as he was working on his Charles Rennie Mackintosh centenary exhibition that became the hit of the Edinburgh Festival in 1968 and initiated the Mackintosh revival.
At heart he was a gallery-man, and greatly encouraged Hardie. With a glowing reference from him, Hardie became the first-ever keeper of Art with Dundee Coproration. He agreed with a scholar who had urged him, to rewrite the “bleak and barren” picture labels that dated back to 1926, along with the catalogue. So began Hardie's many years researching the collection. At first he was puzzled that a number of key pictures weren't on display. Only to discover later that they all shared broken hanging fixtures. The rewritten catalogue was published in1976 to celebrate the centenary of the Dundee City Art Gallery. The same year Hardie published his first book, Scottish Painting from 1837 to 1993. Life in Dundee became all the more enjoyable when he met and married Gillian Brough, or Gillie, especially when they had two children, Andrew and Marion.
Hardie's achievements at the Gallery were noticed by Lord Crawford's son, the Hon. Patrick Lindsay, who was then a senior director of Christie's. He invited him for an interview at their Edinburgh office The impact of the well dressed new director was recalled by Bernard Williams who soon became a close collegue; "Starched shirts and tie, pin-striped suits, along with his charm, did nothing but to re-assure the artists’ widows. as did his honesty with them when making a deal." What he learnt at Christie's much enhanced his knowledge of the art market. He enjoyed acquiring pictures from collectors, talking, and lecturing on art, but he felt that he wasn't cut out to be an auctioneer. He founded Christie's Department of Scottish Art before leaving in 1984 to form William Hardie consultants, specialising in Scottish pictures.
Hardie had just come upon three unknown Stanley Cursiter pictures of 1913 inspired by the Italian Futurist Gino Severini. Richard Demarco, with perfect timing, offered him gallery space during the Festival at the Edinburgh College of Art. Knowing that Cursiter's cousin had a large collection of his Orkney pictures in Tasmania, the enterprissing Hardie flew with many stop-overs to Hobart, only to find that Sotheby's had appraised them. But his knowledge, persistence and committment to Scottish art persuaded the family to sell their entire collection. At the hotel he phoned them only to find the deal was now off. After a restless night of 'Bosewllian self-recrimination, he phoned to pitch all the reasons that they should trust him with their 22 paintings. They would play a key part in the Stanley Cursiter centenary exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival. His passion and honesty won the day.
Hardie's Festival exhibitions continued with Alexander Graham Munro's Moroccan Pastels becoming an outstanding commercial success with 130 sold. The 1986 Festival's exhibition featured Francis McCracken, a New Zealand artist who settled in Scotland in the 1920s. His work also was a sell-out, with all the remaining pictures bought by a dealer in Auckland. The success of these exhibitions financed both his Washington Gallery and the William Hardie Gallerythat was sadly only leased till 2000.
The Japanese influence on Mackintosh's design and his sense of space, lured Hardie to Japan many times. He learnt Japanese, enthralling collectors there, no one more so than Tetsuya Mukai of the Haida-Takayama Museum in the foothills of the Japanese Alps that now has Hardie's fine Mackintosh collection. As a long standing governor of the Glasgow School of Art his friendship secured the Tetsuya Maika student Scholarship. On his last foray to Japan in 2007, visiting his generous friend again, he suffered a near fatal stroke and was rushed to the Morioka hospital.
When I met my friend of many years at Rogano's last year his rush of ideas were intact, though delivered in staccato bursts. His courage and the patience of his editors at Waverley Books converged to deliver Gallery: A Life in Art, one of the best autobiographies of the British contemporay art world.
William Hardie is survived by his son, Andrew, and daughter, Marion, his wife having predeceased him in February 2020.
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