Obituary: Hugh Macandrew

Graham Parry
Monday 02 August 1993 23:02 BST

Hugh Macandrew, art curator: born Edinburgh 19 December 1931; Assistant Keeper, Walker Art Gallery 1957-62; Assistant Keeper, Ashmolean Museum 1964-77; Keeper, National Gallery of Scotland 1978-87, Keeper of Prints and Drawings 1987-91; married 1968 Harriet Chance (two sons, one daughter); died Edinburgh 28 July 1993.

AFTER walking through the public galleries of the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, with their atmosphere of noli me tangere, what a pleasure it was to see the welcoming figure of Hugh Macandrew in the Print Room, willing to show any print, drawing or water-colour one had a mind to inspect. With what enthusiasm and judgement he would point out its qualities, making one intensely aware of the concentrated brilliance of the design, or mildly regretting the inaccuracy of some line drawn 300 years ago.

Such warmth and expressiveness were characteristic of Macandrew in the Sixties and Seventies at Oxford, where he was in his element. He had grown up in a world of painting, for his great-grandfather had been William MacTaggart, the Scottish landscape artist, and his uncle of the same name had been a fine colourist and President of the Royal Scottish Academy. At home he was surrounded by examples of late 19th-century Scottish painting, so that it was no surprise that after reading history at Edinburgh University and enduring a spell of national service, he turned to the art galleries for a career.

The doors swung open for him fortuitously, when Sir John Rothenstein gave him an unpaid job at the Tate to learn the routines of gallery life. With this experience behind him, he became an Assistant Keeper at the Walker Art Gallery, in Liverpool, in the late Fifties. At that time, music vied with painting for his attention, and he was able to combine the two when he spent all his savings on a grand piano. In 1962 he decided to go to Italy to improve his knowledge of paintings and drawings. He sold his piano, cashed in his pension fund, and went to live in Florence.

As was the way in those days, he had no problem finding a job when he returned. Interviewed by Sir Karl Parker in a taxi between King's Cross and Paddington, he was offered a post in the Department of Western Art at the Ashmolean in 1964. There he was able to develop his expertise in Italian drawings of the 16th and 17th centuries, specialising most notably in the Genoese School. His meticulous scholarship shines through in his main work at Oxford, the revision aud enlargement of Parker's catalogue of the Italian drawings in the Ashmolean, which was published in 1980. Macandrew had an exceptionally fine eye for a baroque drawing, and a talent for establishing the whole life history of a work of art. A six-month residency at the Museum of Fine Arts at Boston allowed him to advance the catalogue of the Italian drawings there, and enabled him to become known in the galleries of the East Coast of the United States.

In the later Seventies, Macandrew began to turn more to the study of easel paintings, and he also began to feel the ancestral pull of Scotland. He was appointed Keeper of the National Gallery of Scotland in 1978. At Edinburgh he collaborated with other colleagues in the art world to mount important exhibitions on Degas, Scottish Landscape, and Poussin and Cezanne. He embarked on the catalogue of the Dutch paintings, and his greatest satisfaction in that time was probably the acquisition for the gallery of Sanredam's painting of the church of St Bavo in Haarlem. The drastic reorganisation of the Edinburgh gallery in 1987 caused Macandrew to move to Prints and Drawings, where he set about revising the catalogue of German drawings prepared by his predecessor, Keith Andrews. Macandrew retired in 1991, and seemed then to have time to involve himself in the project he had long been planning: an edition of the letters and a catalogue of the collections of John Talman, the early 18th-century antiquary and virtuoso. Sadly, ill-health put an end to this work.

Hugh Macandrew's personal modesty and high professional expertise combined to project an air of complete integrity that was most uncommon. His devotion to art was exceeded only by his devotion to his family. He married Harriet Chance, from Dublin, in 1968, and she brought that knowledge of the world and how to overcome its challenges that Hugh appeared to lack. It was in many ways a marriage of opposites that both partners enormously enjoyed.

(Photograph omitted)

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