Obituary: The Marquess of Bute

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The Independent Online
LORD BUTE was, as Tam Dalyell implies (obituary, 22 July), a man of many parts, writes Francis Russell. The visionary and the practical were perfectly balanced in his personality, and the range of his sympathies and understanding was prodigious. What he achieved for the arts in Scotland in recent decades can only be compared with the contribution a generation earlier of the late Lord Crawford, whom he so greatly admired.

His appearance, the cut of his suits and the courage of his ties immediately set John Bute apart. And, as many remarked, he bore an uncanny likeness to his equally elegant predecessor the third Earl of Bute, Prime Minister in 1762-63. The resemblance went further. As the third Earl had acquired pictures for himself and for the young King George III, so the sixth Marquess served as a trustee of the National Gallery of Scotland and took a particular interest in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, before becoming Chairman of the Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland. As his ancestor secured royal patronage for such painters as Ramsay and Zoffany, and such craftsmen as Vile, so John Bute patronised - and secured commissions from others for - artists and craftsmen of today. It was a source of great pride that Bute Fabrics, of which he was the very active chairman, supplied material for Terminal 4 at Heathrow, while vital American orders were won for the Edinburgh Tapestry Company.

The third Earl created the botanical gardens at Kew and developed the policies at Mount Stuart, the gardens of which have been transformed in recent years. To the prime minister also can be traced the taste for architecture that has run so strongly among his successors. Buildings of every kind and every civilisation fascinated John Bute. His last great project was the restoration of his beloved Mount Stuart, the prodigious house left unfinished on the death of the third Marquess of Bute in 1900. He was thus the ideal chairman in succession of the three bodies most concerned with the preservation of Scotland's architectural heritage; and the challenge of helping to select the design for the new building of the National Museum was one for which he was uniquely qualified.

John Bute's commitment to great causes was matched by a keen understanding of other men. He was a generous, perceptive and tolerant friend. No one who knew him, or was aware of even a proportion of his achievement in public service, could but feel that the KBE he was awarded in June was both tardy and inadequate. But then, like his ancestor who declined - in King George III's words - 'any post of dignity' on his resignation as prime minister, John Bute cared less than others do about such matters. There was indeed nothing of self-importance in his nature. Issues and institutions mattered: so did his many friends in every sphere and, above all, his family.

(Photograph omitted)