A touring exhibition from the Royal Scottish Academy coming to Haddington 8 December 2023 – 26 April 2024

This December the John Gray Centre in Haddington will celebrate the life and work of Sir William George Gillies RSA (1898-1973) with Modernism and Nation, a touring exhibition from the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA).

This anniversary exhibition marks 125 years since the birth of one of Scotland’s best-known painters, Sir William Gillies RA RSA (1898-1973). Born in Haddington, Gillies served in the First World War and taught and inspired generations of Scottish artists at Edinburgh College of Art. 2023 also marks fifty years since Gillies bequeathed his entire estate to the RSA. It contains hundreds of paintings, many more drawings, and some of his materials, objects, archives, and library. Since this date the RSA has furthered Gillies’ legacy through research, publishing, and exhibitions, opening his life and art to wider audiences.

The story begins early in life, and William Gillies: Modernism and Nation at the John Gray Centre brings works from the RSA Gillies Bequest back to his birthplace, for the first time in over 25 years. The exhibition focuses on the period until Gillies left Haddington to live in Edinburgh in 1928. It contains work from his time at Knox Academy and as a student at Edinburgh College of Art, which shows the early influences of Impressionism, graphic and academic art. In 1923, a travelling grant took him to the Paris studio of André Lhote. This experience opened a door to cubism and the freedoms Modernism could offer to a young and aspiring painter like Gillies.

The exhibition is accompanied and inspired by William Gillies: Modernism and Nation in British Art by Andrew McPherson, a new monograph on the artist published by Edinburgh University Press in partnership with the Royal Scottish Academy. Providing new evidence about the artist, Andrew McPherson shows Gillies to be a more complex, astonishing person than previously acknowledged.

William Gillies: Modernism and Nation is also at the RSA in Edinburgh from 9 December 2023 - 28 January 2024, and will then tour to Rozelle House, Ayr; Hawick Museum; The Pier Arts Centre, Orkney; Perth Art Gallery; Taigh Chearsabhagh, North Uist; Inverness Art Gallery; Kirkcudbright Galleries and Gracefield Arts Centre from March 2024 until the end of 2025.

Councillor Colin McGinn, East Lothian Cabinet Member for Community Wellbeing, noted:

‘East Lothian Council is delighted to be working with Royal Scottish Academy to host this exhibition showcasing the work of William Gillies. The Council is fortunate to hold a small Gillies collection, including a work donated by the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture from the William Gillies Bequest. We are proud to be displaying a selection of these works alongside the touring RSA exhibition. A varied programme of talks and creative workshops will accompany the exhibition.’

Sandy Wood, RSA’s Collections Curator says:

‘We are excited to be bringing this important exhibition to the John Gray Centre. Looking out the window of the gallery, one can see the building on Haddington High Street where Gillies was born, so it’s fitting that a new story about the artist and a major touring exhibition of his work is launched here. We hope it inspires new audiences, and the next generation of artists from East Lothian, to follow in his footsteps.’

Published: Tuesday, 21st November 2023