OBITUARY : Ian Finlay

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The Independent Online
Ian Finlay, former Director of the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh, was a well-known figure in the arts of Scotland. Under his charge the museum's collection of Scottish silver was significantly enhanced, and his book A History of Scottish Gold and Silver Work (1956, revised in 1991) remains the standard text in this field.

Finlay's visionary approach inspired his staff. Many new developments germinated. Finlay began the continuing programme of building renewal at Chambers Street; he established the education section of the museum. Having inherited a fine new lecture theatre from his predecessor, he started a programme of public lectures unsurpassed in Britain. He staged a series of special exhibitions of lasting influence, many in association with the Edinburgh Festival. Of particular significance was the exhibition "Byzantine Art" (1958), brought together by David and Tamara Talbot Rice, which included many objects from behind the Iron Curtain shown in the West for the first time since the Second World War. These exhibitions were beautifully arranged by the design section which he had inaugurated.

Finlay was born in Auckland in 1906, but was no antipodean - his parents returned with him to their native Scotland when he was six weeks old. After the Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University he joined the the Royal Scottish Museum in 1932. During the war he was seconded to the Ministry of Information and was Deputy Regional Officer for Scotland from 1942 to 1944.

I first met Finlay when I joined the staff of the Royal Scottish Museum in 1950. Young at heart, he was Assistant Keeper in charge of the silver collections, and silver was his lasting love. Among the important pieces acquired in his time I remember his delight when the museum's bid for the Lennoxlove toilet service was successful. This famous French 17th- century set belonged to the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, "La Belle Stewart". Finlay thought it perhaps the finest thing of its kind in existence.

Finlay served as Keeper of the Department of Art and Ethnography from 1955 to 1961, when he was appointed to the directorship of the museum. He retired in 1971. But his concern for the arts was not confined to the museum. He was active in the Scottish Arts Council and the Edinburgh Festival Council. He cared greatly for the built environment and for eight taxing years was Secretary to the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland.

Ian Finlay made many BBC broadcast talks on art and other topics. His love of country shines through his many books on Scotland and its people.

Charles D. Waterston

William Ian Robertson Finlay, museum curator: born Auckland, New Zealand 2 December 1906; staff, Royal Scottish Museum 1932-71, Keeper of the Department of Art and Ethnography 1955-61, Director 1961-71; Secretary, Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland 1953-61; CBE 1965; FRSA 1971; Professor of Antiquities to the Royal Scottish Academy 1971-95; married 1933 Mary Pringle (two sons, one daughter); died Edinburgh 10 December 1995.