Issue 210
September/October 2019


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Sep 19, 2019

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The Making of the Maclaurin

An exhibition - 'The Making of a Gallery' - marks the centenary of the death of an arts benefactor who, with his widow, gave Ayr a remarkable collection of modern art. Mary Gladstone tells the story

THE MACLAURIN Art Gallery, situated on the outskirts of Ayr, is celebrating an important milestone. Apart from 'Drawn Together', its May exhibition, showing the work of the Scouller family and 'For the Love of the Clyde', when Richard Demarco's luminous landscapes, once compared by Sir William Gillies to the English visionary artist, Samuel Palmer, were displayed, the Maclaurin is also presenting (until September 22), 'The Making of a Gallery', an exhibition telling the story of how this gallery came about.

The year 2019 marks the centenary of the death of James Henry Maclaurin, grain merchant, who also dealt in textiles, from Ayr, where his widow, Mary Ellen lived until her death in 1971.

Mrs Maclaurin left 13 bequests, the final one to found a gallery in her late husband's memory for the people of Ayr. Fortunately, a few years before Mrs Maclaurin's death, a local landowner bequeathed his house and estate at Rozelle to the town, recommending that the property be used for 'cultural and recreational activities'.

Rozelle, was an ideal venue for an art gallery so, supervised by the architect, Ian McGill, work was carried out in converting the former servants' quarters and coach house of the 18th century house.

Using what was already there, they kept the original courtyard, treating it with imagination and sensitivity and replaced the coach house doors with large windows.. Through an ingenious combination of new build and restoration, they created four separate exhibition rooms and the gallery opened in the summer of 1976.

Importantly, James Maclaurin's widow left enough money for the new gallery to acquire a permanent collection. When, in 1973, a purchasing committee, led by Mike Bailey, the new curator, was formed, they decided to collect modern art, that represented the major artistic movements of the previous 50 years, e.g. Op Art, German Expressionism, Vorticism, Abstract and Cubism.

Initially, 14 art works were bought, the committee's aim to show them from time to time in the gallery. By December 1983, an exhibition was mounted of the collection's foundation pieces and, within no time, it was considered one of the finest collections of contemporary art in Scotland.

Its range and distinction are remarkable, not to mention its worth. The collection has been an excellent financial investment. Although the National Galleries of Scotland and the Scottish Arts Council advised the committee on what to buy, much of the credit should go to Mike Bailey, whose enthusiasm and appreciation of contemporary art, was the driving force behind the achievement.

Most of the movers and shakers of art in the latter half of the 20th century are there - names sucg as John Hoyland, Bridget Riley, John Taylor, Phillip Reeves, Terry Frost, Ivon Hitchens and Patrick Heron.

Many, like Alan Davie, William McCance, John Bellany, William Gear, Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, were from Scotland but had to leave to gain a reputation and survive.

This exhibition explains how the gallery gained its permanent collection, many of which form a part of the display, along with information on the Maclaurins and the role they played in Ayr.

The Patrons' Gallery contains some of the most important works, bought during the 70s and 80s. It's a reconstruction of the collection's first exhibition with 13 of the 14 original pieces on display. Several of these artists, like John Hoyland, R.B. Kitaj and John Bellany, have become world famous.

Gallery 2 features recent purchases where, over the years, a bias towards Scottish art has over-ridden its European counterpart, with Helen Wilson's 'Jonah Gaskell of Kittyfield Farm', which won her in 2017 the Scottish Portrait Award, as one example.

Gallery 3 holds the art of Sir Michael Craig-Martin, who fostered the Young British Artists. His conceptual work is featured in the Tate Gallery, In this room you can also see paintings by Joan Eardley and Sir Robin Philipson, while Gallery 4 is concerned with the Friends of Maclaurin and financial contributions towards the gallery.

Highly impressive though this collection is, it can be seen as somewhat disappointing that in more recebt times the gallery appears to have bowed to pressure in buying Scottish art at the expense of the European. In the visual arts, Scotland cannot afford to be insular or narrow-minded.


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