Obituary: David Baxandall

David Kighley Baxandall, gallery director, born London 11 October 1905, Assistant Keeper Department of Art National Museum of Wales 1929-39, Keeper 1939-41, Director Manchester City Art Galleries 1945-52, Director of National Galleries of Scotland 1952-70, CBE 1959, married 1931 Isobel Thomas (one son, two daughter), died Hereford 17 October 1992.

DAVID BAXANDALL was Director of the National Galleries of Scotland from 1952 until his retirement in 1970. This appointment was for him the culmination of a career as an art historian that stretched back through Cardiff and Manchester for 41 years.

Baxandall served in the Department of Art in the National Museum of Wales successively as Assistant Keeper and Keeper from 1929 to 1941, when he joined the RAF. He never spoke much about his war years, but he was attached to the section of Air Intelligence that concerned itself with the interpretation of air photographs and the penetration of camouflage.

At the end of the war he became Director of the Manchester City Art Galleries and remained there until he came to Edinburgh - setting a precedent that has become almost traditional, that Manchester staff fly on to the northern capital. At Edinburgh he succeeded Ellis Waterhouse, a hard act to follow by any standards.

For Waterhouse art had ended somewhere in the mid-1800s and the Edinburgh Trustees clearly felt that an extension of interest to 'Modern Art' was highly desirable; hence, with his reputation in this field already formed at Manchester, came Baxandall's appointment. The foundation of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, today an integral and popular department of the National Galleries of Scotland, was David Baxandall's achievement and must always remain his chief monument.

The 1930s were indeed his ideal period. He loved and was an authority on the English abstract painters, buying Ben Nicholson for example both for Manchester and for himself. He knew the painter as a friend and in 1962 published Ben Nicholson, an account of his work.

David married Isobel Thomas, daughter of a Welsh rectory and an essentially Welsh character. To go into their flat in Edinburgh was to enter an austerely white temple, inspired by David's favourite 1930s period. Carefully chosen water-colours, including Nicholsons, were hung on the walls but never in the oppressive clutter of some other art historians' homes. The Baxandall flat was elegant, David's library, files and recordings organised to the last logical degree, and Iso's kitchen her pride. Friends of all ages looked forward to an invitation from the Baxandalls.

David Baxandall might have seemed aloof on first acquaintance but he was essentially a most kindly man, always capable of great warmth of friendship. (A junior Assistant Keeper on his staff will always remember the most gentle of reprimands for wearing totally unsuitable trousers in the gallery.) He was also, unexpectedly, a very clubbable man, taking a whole-hearted part, which gave scope for his sense of humour, in an eccentric Edinburgh club which specialised in theme-inspired dressing-up.

His off-duty interests were varied. He enjoyed hill-walking in Scotland and Wales and countryside walking as long as he was able. He was a skilled and painstaking photographer and latterly made an excellent record of the Romanesque sculptures of Herefordshire churches. He also enjoyed writing poetry, both serious and parody.

His family was a constant source of happiness and pride. He is survived by his son, Michael, the distinguished art historian, by twin daughters, by grandchildren and a great-grandchild. In the end Hereford claimed him, but it is in Edinburgh that he will long be remembered with affection by his many friends.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas