James Porteous Wood

Painter and Asprey's designer
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Although the artist James Porteous Wood may best be remembered for his many quintessentially Scottish landscapes and seascapes, his career was nothing if not cosmopolitan. Ranging from Edinburgh to Bond Street (as Director of Art and Design at Asprey's for a quarter of a century) and thence to the court of King Hassan II of Morocco, it reflected his own stated ambition to be "versatile and innovative".

James Porteous Wood, artist: born Edinburgh 12 September 1919; Director of Art and Design, Asprey 1956-81; married 1946 Margaret McCombie (one son); died Fort William, Inverness-shire 19 April 2005.

Although the artist James Porteous Wood may best be remembered for his many quintessentially Scottish landscapes and seascapes, his career was nothing if not cosmopolitan. Ranging from Edinburgh to Bond Street (as Director of Art and Design at Asprey's for a quarter of a century) and thence to the court of King Hassan II of Morocco, it reflected his own stated ambition to be "versatile and innovative".

He was born in Edinburgh in 1919 and educated at George Heriot's School and the Edinburgh College of Art, where he worked under D.Y. Cameron. His election - at 26 - to the Royal Scottish Watercolour Society, made him its youngest member ever, and at the time of his death he was the oldest exhibiting member. As his reputation grew, he exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy and Royal Society of Watercolourists. His work found its way into many international collections.

During the Second World War years, Jim Porteous Wood was part of a design team for the portable Bailey bridge and created maps of enemy territory from photographs - activities about which he was modest, but which had a significant impact at the time in saving lives. After the war, he freelanced. One of his most notable jobs was on the Birmingham Post where, for seven years, he travelled within a 50-mile radius of the city to provide a fortnightly drawing of a notable architectural landmarks.

Eventually, in 1956, he joined Asprey, the gold and silversmiths on Bond Street in London. There he remained for 25 years as their Director of Art and Design. His time at Asprey's gave him a chance to put his versatility to the test. He produced many architectural and interior decoration perspective paintings of palaces in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Thailand, Morocco and the United States (at the UN Headquarters). He also designed gold and silver dinner services and innumerable pieces of jewellery and objets d'art.

His method of working did not involve the usual production of plans and elevations, but of three-dimensional drawings. One of his notable commissions was a large gold rose bowl which was presented in the 1960s to the former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

After he left Asprey's, in 1982 Wood was asked by the King of Morocco to design a spectacular centrepiece for the table of a large-scale Islamic conference. This became a huge project, depicting the significance of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock to Islam. It was eventually reputed to be the largest - at 175cm in diameter - and most important silver and enamel artwork ever to be exported from the UK.

The period in which this momentous work was undertaken was punctured by long stays in Marrakesh, awaiting audiences with the King. Wood took the opportunity to take his camper van into the mountains and experience a landscape that was as different to that of his beloved Scotland as it was possible to be.

It was in Scotland, in the village of Arisaig on the north-west coast, that Wood and his wife, Margaret, built the house, overlooking the islands of Rhum and Eigg, in which they would spend their final 25 years together. The constantly changing light and texture of the land and seascape inspired Wood to produce some of his most personal and evocative work.

In Arisaig, Jim Porteous Wood became a familiar figure, with his constantly billowing pipe and lugubrious manner. Wanting to put something back into the community that he loved so much, he sponsored an art prize for the nearby Mallaig High School to encourage new talent.

Terry Sanderson

Comments