Marc A Béra (1914-1990)


On 30th June 1948, M Marc A. Béra of the Institut Français d’Ecosse, 13 Randolph Crescent Edinburgh presented Kelvingrove Gallery with an oil painting named Apres la Guerre painted by Lucien Simon[1]. The name of the painting has since been translated into English as After the War and it is now known by this name in The Oil Paintings in Public Ownership series of catalogues and also in ART UK©.

The painting is shown below in Fig.1.

After the War painted by Lucien Simon (1861-1945)

Simon, Lucien, 1861-1945; After the War
Fig. 1 Simon, Lucien; After the War; © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

The office of Institut Français d’Ecosse [2] in Edinburgh was contacted and I learned that our donor Marc A. Béra had been its First Director in 1946. A further search on the Internet revealed an article in the Scotsman of 22nd June 2002 which gave the address of the French Institute in Edinburgh. [3] An extract from that article is printed below:

HEROES of the ‘French resistance are to reunite in Edinburgh tomorrow to mark the anniversary of a safe house opened by their country’s most famous Second World War general, Charles de Gaulle. The building in Regent Terrace, now home to the French Consul General, was opened by General de Gaulle in 1942 as a place for members of the Free French movement to recuperate between missions. After the war, the French government declared that the house was to be the permanent residence of its representative in Scotland. During the conflict, the building was particularly popular with members of the French naval forces, and tomorrow senior members of the French Admiralty will join resistance heroes at a special anniversary celebration organised by the Consul General of France for Scotland, Michel Roche.

There has always been a strong link between France and Scotland. War time was very difficult and it was vital at that time to stress the importance of historical links, because the Free French had to impose their existence on the world’s attention. We had long-term links with the Scots, but it is easy to forget about such connections when things are going well. But it is in difficult times of war that the strength of these connections is really tested.
said Mr Roche.

Marc André Béra (1914-1990)

Marc A Béra was born in Paris in 1914 and studied and graduated from the prestigious l’Ecole normale supérieure in Paris in 1935. He became the first Director of the Institut Français d’Ecosse in Edinburgh [4] when it opened in November 1946. He married the celebrated pianist Nadia Tagrine (1917-2003), whom he had met when she was touring in Scotland in 1947. They had two children. Their son, Michel Béra had become a mathematician and their daughter, Nathalie Béra-Tagrine, a pianist, who was as equally celebrated as her mother and often performed with her.

He stayed in Edinburgh until 1952. From 1953 to 1957, he was appointed Director of the Centre Culturel de Royaumont which was an Abbey in France built in the thirteenth century. It was partly destroyed during the French Revolution and had gone through several transformations. During the First World War, the family who owned the site made it available to the Scottish Women’s Hospital, which cared for more than 10,000 wounded soldiers between 1915 and 1919. Later, in the 1950s, it became a cultural centre.

Under our donor’s directorship, Royaumont established music, literature and philosophy firmly at the heart of the Abbey. This was exactly as Henry Goüin, who was the owner of the Royaumont estate had wished as he once remarked ‘a meeting place where attention is focused entirely on the mind and the intellect’. [5]

Our donor was an extraordinary man of his time. He made a colossal number of contributions during his life and most of them related to British scientists, authors and philosophers. In 1990 Marc A Béra was listed as Maître de Conférences at the l’Ecole polytechnique and l’Ecole des Sciences politiques de Paris – an important position in these two very prestigious institutions.

It is important to mention here that, apart from the contributions he made in the fields of literature, music, general art and science while he was living in France and Scotland, he also became a specialist in the works of two very important British scientists of the twentieth century.  They were Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and James Gerald Crowther (1899–1983). Alfred North Whitehead was a British mathematician and a philosopher known for his work in mathematical logic and the philosophy of science. [6] His most notable work in these fields is the three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910–13), which he wrote with his former student Bertrand Russell.

On the other hand, J.G. Crowther was Britain’s very first official science correspondent. [7] During World War II, as Director of Science for the British Council, he furthered international links between scientists, which he thought could be a model for peace and cooperation between nations.

Royaumont Abbey

As mentioned earlier Royaumont Abbey played an important part in the life of our donor Marc A Bera. Therefore, it is appropriate to give some more information about it. Scotland has a strong connection with the Royaumont Abbey [8] which was built between the years 1228-1235 for the Cistercian order of monks, which was dissolved during the French Revolution in 1789. From 1914-1918 the Abbey was turned into a hospital. The Abbey was owned by the Goüin family from 1905 and when the war started, they made the site available to the Scottish Women’s Hospitals (SWH).  The SWH was founded by Dr Elsie Maud Inglis [9] (1864-1917) who was a remarkable person in her own right [10]. She was born in India to British parents and was educated privately. She was then enrolled in Dr Sophia Jex-Blake’s newly opened Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women and completed her training under Sir William Macewen at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. She qualified as a licentiate of both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh, and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1892 – a remarkable achievement for women in those times.

A little anecdote relating to Dr Inglis’s life is as follows. During World War I, Dr Elsie Maud Inglis approached the Royal Army Medical Corps to offer them a ready-made Medical Unit staffed by qualified women. However, the War Office told her ‘go home and sit still’ [11]. It was, instead, the French government that took up her offer and the first hospital was based at the Abbey of Royaumont which worked under the direction of the French Red Cross.

In 1918, the Helensburgh born Scottish artist Norah Neilson Gray [12], went to Royaumont and served as a voluntary aid detachment nurse at one of the ten hospitals run by the SWH. She was also doing some paintings in her spare time. It should be mentioned here that she was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to record the staff and the patients at the hospital in her paintings for their collection.


Gray, Norah Neilson, 1882-1931; A Belgian Refugee
Fig. 2  Gray, Norah Neilson; A Belgian Refugee; © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

Norah Neilson Gray, who was also one of the painters known as the Glasgow Girls, [5] painted very interesting works during the war. As early as 1916, she had painted a sensitive portrait of a Belgian Refugee (see Fig 2. Above) who had come to live in Glasgow when his country was invaded by the Germans. The painting of the Refugee shown above won the Bronze Medal in Paris 1921. Another one of the paintings she made Hôpital Auxillaire d’Armee 301-_Abbaye de Royaumont is often displayed in the Helensburgh library and it is depicted below in Fig3.

Gray, Norah Neilson, 1882-1931; Hopital Auxiliaire d'Armee 301 - Abbaye de Royaumont
Fig.3  Gray, Norah Neilson; Hopital Auxiliaire d’Armee 301 – Abbaye de Royaumont; Argyll and Bute Council;

The other painting that Nora Neilson Gray made in Royaumont is called The Scottish Women’s Hospital and it is in the Imperial War Museum [14].


Our donor, Marc André Béra was a great specialist of Britain (he was agrégé d’anglais).[15] He was a shining example of a French intellectual and was a very competent person in many areas of literature, science and art to mention just three areas of human endeavour. He had made translations from the English Language to French of many plays by Shakespeare as well as works of many scientific articles and books. He also translated works of other scientists (i.e. by J. G. Crowther) and in addition to these, he wrote many books about various subjects himself.

A list of most widely held works by Marc André Béra is given in Reference [16] where his contributions at various dates in his life are listed.

Marc André Béra and his wife Nadia remained married for nearly 40 years until Marc André Béra died on 31st March 1990.


I should like to thank my colleague Caroline Steel and her husband James Steel for putting me in touch with their friend Prof. John Renwick of Edinburgh University to whom I am indebted for his invaluable help.


[1] Record of donor’s gift to Kelvingrove Gallery.

[2] Institut Français d’Ecosse 13 Randolph Crescent Edinburgh. (Please note the new address of Institut Français d’Ecosse is West Parliament Square, Edinburgh, EH1 1RF.


[4] Private correspondence with Senior Honorary Professorial Fellow Prof. John Renwick,  MA (Oxon), MA (Cantab), PhD (Glasgow), DLitt (Glasgow) FRHistS, FRSE, University of Edinburgh.

[5] Royaumont estate

[6] Alfred North Whitehead

[7] JG Crowther

[8] Op.cit. Royaumont estate

[9] Maud Inglis

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Noble, Stuart (Ed.) 200 years of Helensburgh. Argyll Publishing,  pp.166-67

[13] BurkHauser, Jude (Ed.) Glasgow  Girls. Cannongate, 1990

[14] Op.cit. “200 Years of Helensburgh”

[15] Op.cit. Private correspondence.

[16] WorldCat Identities



Mr. Charles Carlton (1855 – 1933)

Charles Carlton

Fig.1 Mr Charles Carlton

In the minutes of the Corporation of Glasgow on  28th March 1924, ex-Bailie Mr Charles Carlton (see Fig. 1) had offered to present to the Corporation an oil painting entitled The Old Boating Station (1880) on the South Bank of the River Clyde, opposite Glasgow Green, by John MacNiven (1819-1895)RSW (as shown below in Fig.2). This painting is now called The Glasgow Regatta, The Closing Stages.


MacNiven, John, 1819-1895; Glasgow Regatta, the Closing Stages
Fig. 2  MacNiven, John; Glasgow Regatta, the Closing Stages; © Glasgow Museums;

Our donor, Mr. Charles Carlton came from a large Glasgow family. His father, also Charles Carlton, was a Master Painter with his own Painter Decorator Company employing 25 men and 7 boys [1]. In the 1871 Census, it is recorded that the family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Carlton and 7 children, including our donor who was 16 at that time. They all lived at 72 Bath Street, Glasgow. The Family also had a servant living with them.

After leaving school, our donor was trained as an apprentice clerk [2]. At that time his father was in partnership in a Glasgow painting and decorating firm which was headed by Hugh Locke Anderson (c. 1818–1888) for 43 years. On 5th February 1883 it was reported in the Glasgow Herald [3] that the partnership of M.L. Anderson and Charles Carlton, House Painters and Decorators located at 141 St Vincent Street Glasgow, was dissolved [4]. It was then our donor came into his father’s new firm, now named Charles Carlton & Son, Painters and Decorators [5]. Our donor’s father had started his own firm of Painter, Decorator and Gilders in the1840s [6] and his son took over as sole principal in 1886.

In 1886 Charles Carlton was now a married man, after marrying on 23rd April 1885 Miss Jessie McLean, daughter of William McLean, a carting contractor, and his wife Janet McLean, as well as being the sole proprietor of a well-known painter and decorator firm. They celebrated their marriage at the Grand Hotel in Glasgow after which they moved to 2 Athol Gardens, Kelvinside, Glasgow [7].

One of the first big contracts after becoming the sole principal of the firm Charles Carlton & Son, was the contract for painting the dome and main avenue of the 1888 [8] International Exhibition building. Another big contract came soon after for decorating the Industrial Hall for the 1901 International Exhibition in Glasgow [9].  Other commissions included the redecoration of Ardrossan Parish Church and work on the Municipal Chambers, the Mitchell Library and the City Hall [10].  Furthermore, it may be mentioned that Messrs Charles Carlton & Son were also responsible for decorative painting of the principal hotels and numerous halls, churches and mansions throughout the country [11].

In 1911 Charles Carlton was elected to Glasgow Corporation as a Council member for the Blythswood Ward, and served as convenor of the Committee on Art Galleries and Museums. He was also a member of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts.  He traveled widely on the continent, partially in connection with his work and he showed a keen interest in societies connected with his business. He was a Fellow of the Incorporated Institute of British Decorators, a former president and member of the Council of the Master Painters of Scotland, a member of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers, and a director of the Glasgow Master Painters Association. He was Vice-President of the architectural section of the Glasgow Philosophical Society and acted as chairman of the Art Union in Glasgow. He was a member of the Conservative Club and also the Royal Clyde Yacht Club. Furthermore, he was on the Municipal Buildings Committee and the Parks Committee, where he did sterling work. His most prominent endeavour was for the preservation of the Tollbooth in Glasgow.  It was while he was convenor of the Parks Committee that the Lynn Estate at Catcarth was acquired for Glasgow. As convenor of the Committee on Art Galleries and Museums he was instrumental in carrying through improvements at the southern front of the Kelvingrove Art Galleries [12].

According to the archives of the Glasgow Art Club [13] Charles Carlton was admitted as a lay member in 1886 and was elected Vice-President in 1916 and 1917. He was one of the first people admitted when the Club opened up for lay members. Prior to November 1886, only “artists” could obtain membership by being elected [14].

Furthermore, he was one of those people who, in 1891, appended their names to a list requesting that the Corporation of Glasgow buy Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No2, a portrait of Thomas Carlyle [15] who was a Scottish philosopher, writer, historian, mathematician and teacher. The Corporation had agreed that the painting be bought and it hangs now in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

The picture depicts a boat race with the winner at the closing stages. You can almost hear the crowds of people who have gathered on the banks of the Clyde cheering the winners. Judging by the size of the crowd in the picture, it is clear that the boat races were in those days extremely popular.

When you look at the painting  above, it tells the story of the Clyde and the people who used it. The artist John MacNiven (1819-1895) was employed by the town council. His favourite subject was The Clyde and the busy traffic on it. The people travelled to their places of work on the Clyde using Clutha ferries [16]. The Clyde Navigation Trust introduced the first ferries in 1884 to provide passenger services along the river. There were twelve ferries, operating by 1898, collectively known as Cluthas, stopping at ten landing stages between the city centre and Whiteinch. The service was withdrawn in 1903 because it could not compete with cheap and efficient tramway and railway services along the riverside.

Apart from commuting on the Clyde, the Glaswegians, in their free time, gathered in the rowing clubs scattered along the riverside. Rowing was a popular sport among the young. It is important to note that there was a very strong link with the rowing clubs on the Clyde and the birth of football. One of these clubs was the Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club and the early members of the club are credited with involvement in the formation of Glasgow Rangers Football Club. J Allan in his book The Story of the Rangers: Fifty Years’ Football 1873-1923 mentions that in the club minutes of the time, there are bitter complaints of the amount of football being played by members of Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club to the detriment of their rowing [17]. Rangers Football Club acknowledges its rowing roots on a mural in Ibrox. In 1872 the nucleus of what was to become Rangers FC played their first match on the Flesher’s Haugh in “The Green”.

Allan further writes: “In the summer evenings of 1873 a number of lusty, laughing lads, flushed and happy from the exhilaration of a finishing dash with the oars, could be seen hauling their craft ashore on the upper reaches of the river Clyde at the Glasgow Green. As keen then was their enthusiasm for the sport of rowing as it became in later years for the game of football; for these lads were the founders of the Rangers Football Club.”


Mr Charles Carlton was the representative for the Blythswood Ward from 1911 until 1920 when he was defeated at the polls. When he retired he went to Boscombe in Wiltshire, England where he lived at Stresa, Chessel Avenue until his death on 28th December 1933 [18].

In the ‘Wills and Bequests’ column in The Times of Tuesday 8th May 1934 [19], the following was reported:

Mr Charles Carlton of Boscombe, late Glasgow, died on 28th December 1933 and he had an estate of £73,577. He is survived by his wife Jessie Carlton. His nephew was Dr W. H. McLean, M.P. for the Tradeston Division of Glasgow.


I should like to thank the project leaders, information officers and the liaison officers of the institution, business and club, as well as all the librarians and information officers for their help and kind permission for letting me use information for the production of the above blog.

Creators of Mackintosh Architecture, the first authoritative survey of the architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (

Rogano Glasgow (

Rangers Football Club (

Mitchell Library, Glasgow.


[1] 1871 Census

[2] ibid.

[3] Glasgow Herald Archives Feb. 5. 1883, p.1

[4]  Post Office Annual Glasgow Directory 1887-1887. P. 188

[5]  Mackintosh Architecture, Context, Making and Meaning.

[6] The Man You Know, The Bailie, pp.3-4, No 2303, Mitchell Library, Glasgow.

[7] Marriage Certificate (1885), and 1911 Scotlad Census, both obtained from Scotlands People.

[8] Glasgow Herald, 28 January 1888, p. 3.

[9] Glasgow Herald, 18 December 1900, p. 4.

[10]  Glasgow Herald, 27 August 1884, p. 7.

[11] Op.cit. The Man You Know


[13] GAC:

List of Members from Nov. 1886  to Dec. 1933. Glasgow Art Club Archives, Glasgow.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Whistler’s painting:

[16] Wikipedia:  Clutha Ferries:

[17] Allan, J. The Story of the Rangers: Fifty Years’ Football 1873-1923. Rangers Football Club, 1924.

[18] Obituary column of Glasgow Herald, 29 December 1933, p. 1

[19] ‘Wills and Bequests’ column of page 21 of The Times of Tuesday 8th May 1934.



James Howden Hume (1866-1938)

In May 1921, Mr James Howden Hume donated to Kelvingrove Museum a painting which is called “Roses” by Louisa Perman (Mrs. Torrance) and a copy of it is displayed below.

Figure 1.Louisa Ellen Perman; Roses; © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (

Our Donor, James Howden Hume was born in Glasgow in 1866. His father was William Hume, an iron merchant, and his mother was Ann Howden, sister of James Howden [1]. He was educated at The High School and the Royal Technical College, now Strathclyde University. He lived at 11, Whittingehame Drive, Govan, and Glasgow and spent the last eight years of his life in London [2]. His illustrious uncle, Mr James Howden [3,4], during the end of the nineteen century, took the industrial revolution one stage further by his inventions and modifications which were able to increase the efficiency and the applications of steam power machinery, mainly used in marine engines and boilers [5]. As our donor’s profession and business life were closely linked to his uncle, it is appropriate that at this point, some more information is given about his uncle, Mr James Howden.

Young James, after completing his education at the Royal Technical College, served his apprenticeship as an engineer in the firm founded by his uncle, James Howden (1832-1913), who was born in Prestonpans, East Lothian in 1832 and was educated at the local parish school. His parents were James Howden and Catherine Adams. At this point, as there are too many similar names in this family, to ease the confusion a clarification must be made. The name of our donor is James Howden Hume. His uncle was James Howden whose father was also James Howden.

Mr. James Howden, the uncle, served as an apprentice from 1847 with James Gray & Co., an engineering firm in Glasgow, a firm with an established reputation for stationary engines. It was noticed that his talents for technical drawing were considerable and, even before his formal apprenticeship was concluded, he was promoted to the position of the chief draughtsman.

Figure 2. James Howden Hume Snr. Chairman 1913–1938 by kind permission of Mr Nick McLean, Website & Digital Marketing Manager of Howden.

Mr James Howden, having finished his apprenticeship, started work first with Bell and Miller, the civil engineers, then with Robert Griffiths, who designed marine screw propellers. In 1854 at the age of 22, he set up in business in Glasgow as a consulting engineer and designer. Before long he registered a vast number of patents in many fields of engineering [6].

Mr James Howden’s first major invention was the rivet-making machine. The selling of the patent rights to a company in Birmingham for this invention secured him financially and James Howden & Co. was established as a manufacturer of marine equipment. In 1857, James Howden began work on the design and supply of boilers and steam engines for the marine industry. His first contract was to supply the Anchor Liner’s ship Ailsa Craig [7] with a compound steam engine and water boilers, using steam at 100 lb pressure. Using this sort of pressure was a considerable advance on existing technology. That same year, together with Alexander Morton of Glasgow, he was awarded a patent for the “invention of improvements in obtaining motive power.” On 28 February 1859, he applied for a patent for the “improvements in machinery, or apparatus for cutting, shaping, punching, and compressing metals.” In 1860, he patented a method of preheating combustion air; his patent was granted for the invention of “improvements in steam engines and boilers, and in the apparatus connected therewith”. In 1862 he decided to construct main boilers and engines to his own design and started manufacturing in his first factory in Scotland Street in Glasgow’s Tradeston district [8]. A breakthrough came in 1863 when he introduced a furnace mechanical draught system which used a steam turbine driven axial flow fan.

James Howden’s best-known work was the “Forced Draught System”, introduced in the 1880s, which used waste gases to heat the air in boiler’s combustion chamber and which was adopted by shipbuilders all around the world. This system dramatically reduced the amount of coal used in ships’ boilers. Howden patented this device in 1882 as the ‘Howden System of Forced Draught’. During the 1880s, more than 1000 boilers were converted to this specification or constructed according to Howden’s patent. The first vessel to use the system was the ship the New York City, built in 1885. Amongst the liners to use the Howden system in their boilers were the Lusitania and Mauretania, the fastest liners in the world when they were built [9].

Now, we come to our donor, James Howden Hume. He started his career as an apprentice in his uncle’s firm James Howden & Co. Ltd in the 1880’s [10]. Then, he became a director in 1890. Together with his uncle, he managed the firm until his uncle’s demise in 1913, when young James became the Chairman of the company and remained in this position until his own death in 1938.

Below are the pictures of some of the machinery that were manufactured by Howden and Co. Ltd., the cover of Howden’s Quarterly depicting an artist’s impression of the factory and the main offices of James Howden & Co. Ltd. at 195 Scotland Street, Glasgow, as well as  the cover of Howden’s Quarterly Centenary Edition No 20, October, 1954.

Figure 3. Howden engines at Shieldhall Sewage Works of Glasgow Corporation, installed in 1908.
Figure 4. A triple expansion high-speed Howden engine of 2,700 H.P for Woolwich Arsenal, London, installed in 1914 the largest of that design in the country at the time
Figure 5. Artist’s impression of the factory and the main offices of James Howden & Co. Ltd. at 195 Scotland Street, Glasgow
Figure 6. On the cover of Howden’s Quarterly Centenary Edition No 20, October, 1954. Clockwise from the top: A Victorian era paddle steamer: Howden Patent boiler front: triple expansion reciprocating steam engine: double inlet forced draught fan: auxiliary steam engine circa 1880s: steam turbine fan drive: rotors of a Lysholm screw compressor: vortex dust collector: double inlet fan impeller and shaft: Variable pitch axial fan impeller.

 (Figures 3,4,5, and 6 by kind permission of Mr Nick McLean, Website & Digital Marketing Manager of Howden.)

James Howden was fortunate that his nephew turned out to be an engineer of much the same skill and stature as he was. James Howden Hume had joined the firm just when the “forced draught system” was on the point of being widely used in the 1880s. It was not long before he became Chief Draughtsman and his uncle brought him in as a Partner in the firm. Around the mid-1890s, such was the success of the two gifted engineers, uncle and nephew, that James Howden had hoped to be able to retire from manufacturing and continue working as a consultant. However, he could not find anyone reliable enough to make the fans and other machinery needed to work his forced draught system properly. So, once again, he had to take on manufacturing his inventions himself and leave the management of the firm to his nephew. At that time, his existing factory had been designed to build main engines and boilers and was unsuitable for the much smaller auxiliary machinery needed for the new system. So he constructed another factory at 195 Scotland Street. This remained the main headquarters of the Company for nearly a hundred years. The next advance was when the firm became a private limited Company in 1907, with James Howden as Chairman of the Board and James Howden Hume as Managing Director and James Howden’s son, William Howden, as a Director [11]. On the death of Mr James Howden on 21 November 1913, our donor, Mr. James Howden Hume became the Chairman of James Howden and Company.

In 1914, at the break of the First World War, the first challenge that our donor Mr. James Howden Hume, as the Chairman of the Company, was to cope with the cancellation of orders from German ship owners amounting to about a third of the firm’s marine work. However, new ships needing Howden equipment were being placed by British ship owners, as the German submarines sank large numbers of British merchant fleet, with appalling loss of life. It was then an extraordinary story emerged of a British ship that had escaped from an attack by a German submarine by making full use of its Howden equipment, increasing its speed far beyond the normal by forcing its boilers to the maximum. When the Ministry of Shipping heard of this, they immediately ordered that all ships, replacing those sunk, should be fitted with the Howden forced draught system. In the time gap while these new ships were being built, J.B.MacGillivray, who joined Howden in the 1880s and worked with three generations of the Howden family, using his Howden international contacts, managed to find twelve Japanese built ships, amounting to a total of over 115,000 tons, which were duly delivered to the Ministry of Shipping, making the British government the owners of merchant ships for the first time in their history [12]!

In addition to the war effort shown by Howden Company, in 1914, a 15MW turbo-generator, the largest in the United Kingdom, was supplied to Manchester Corporation and came into operation after a year of the death of Mr James Howden, the uncle of our donor. It is believed that the replacement was not only for the increased demand for electric power but also for the old and very noisy turbine in situ [13].

Later, when the United States had joined the war, they also needed Howden equipment. However, the Glasgow Scotland Street factory was hard pressed to fulfil all its orders, so our donor, James Howden Hume, had decided that manufacturing directly in the USA had become an urgent need. Therefore, in 1918 a factory was acquired in Wellsville, New York. His eldest son, Crawford William Hume, who had joined the firm in 1913, was sent out to set up and run this factory [14]. This action gave the Howden Company an international status.

At the end of the Great War, the Howden order books were very full. However, this did not last long as the worsening economic situation forced the cancellation of contracts by the early 1920s. Keeping the Works going at full capacity had become a problem. This problem, however, was solved after our donor’s two sons met Frederick Ljungstrom, an engineer of the Swedish firm, AB Ljungstrom Angturbin, quite by chance in Brussels. In their conversation, Frederick Ljungstrom, having realised that all of them were in the same business, showed them a design of a new mechanical air pre-heater that his firm had developed. When they returned to Glasgow and showed the design to their father they all realised that it was the answer to the problem of pre-heating air for the much larger boilers that were by then being used in the Howden land business. The principle of the modification was that the heat is retained within the system rather than lost up the chimney and the boilers become much more efficient, with a dramatic saving of fuel. Howden obtained the license [15] from Ljungstrom for ‘exclusive rights for manufacturing and sales for land use within the British Empire’ and this turned out to be of great importance to both Companies and has being used in power stations, oil refinery distillation and methanol, ammonia, copper & steel furnaces and many other applications, including ships. In his presidential address to the Institution of Engineers & Shipbuilders, our donor, Mr James Howden Hume described it as [16]:

The latest development in hot air forced draught is a somewhat radical departure from the standard arrangement, involving an entirely novel method of heating air by mechanical means, instead of the original stationary tubular heater.

It was during those precise weeks that a new contract came through for Howden equipment for the boilers of the new Battersea power station in London [17], so the situation was saved from disaster in the nick of time. Looking back, the building of that huge and distinctive red-brick power station with its four giant chimneys became something of an iconic symbol of the recovering economy of the whole nation. Alas, today in 2018, the Battersea Power Station is no more, as it was recently converted to luxury flats.

After the both World Wars, Howden Company continued collaborating with the Swedish partners. In fact, one of the Swedish engineers later became a Technical Director in the Howden Company.

In The Bailie [18] a summary of his life is given. It is mentioned that, in his lifetime, our donor, James Howden Hume, had a wide number of interests in the affairs of Glasgow and was a Deacon of the Incorporation of Hammerman 1924-1925 ( as well as being  a Freeman of the City of London and Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights ( The Bailie also mentions that from 1923 to 1925 he was the President of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland (IESIS) (http//  About his early age, it is mentioned that James Howden Hume took a keen interest in art, particularly in the works of Guthrie, Lavery, and Henry of the Glasgow School of Art between 1919 and 24, he was President of Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts ( He was also a keen collector. He possessed several very notable paintings by  McTaggart and many of his pictures being in constant demand by various exhibitions throughout the country. He was a keen yachtsman and sailed on the Clyde and he loved yacht racing and cruising [19]. In addition to that, as a young man, he also had the skill and spunk to play for Queen’s Park Football Club, Scotland’s oldest amateur soccer team founded in 1867. He spent his last days in London where he died in 1938. He was survived by his wife Agnes, two sons and a daughter [20].

In summary, our donor, James Howden Hume, was working with his uncle in the 1880’s. Subsequently becoming Chief Draughtsman, then General Manager, he became a director of the firm James Howden & Co. Ltd in 1900. On the death of his uncle in 1913, he became the Chairman of the company and remained in this position and continued with the progress of the company until his own death in 1938. In the Obituaries column of the Glasgow Herald of Thursday, May 26, 1938, an article appeared for NOTED GLASGOW ENGINEER, James Howden Hume [21].

After his death, the Howden Hume family continued to run the firm. The business was to grow and became the world’s leading fan makers. They were involved with most of the important engineering jobs of the 20th century.  A few examples [22] of these are the following great engineering feats of Howden Company:

  • In 1947 they supplied the main blowers for two nuclear reactors at Windscale.
  • In November 1982, the CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board) awarded a contract to Howden for the first-ever wind turbine generator in the UK; this was commissioned with an output of 200kW.
  • In 1988, two Channel Tunnel drilling machines had been built at James Howden & Co. 195 Scotland Street, Glasgow.


I should like to thank Mr Nick McLean, Website & Digital Marketing Manager of Howden for his kind permission to use some of the pictures of early Howden machinery as well as some archive material taken from the book “Douglas Hume a personal story” by David H. Hume whom I owe my thanks for making the Industrial Revolution Era and his family’s contribution to that era a very interesting read.


[1] Douglas Hume a personal story by David H. Hume,Published in aid of the June and Douglas Hume Memorial Fund administered by Foundation Scotland, ISBN 978-1-905989-88-1, Printed by Nicholson & Bass Ltd., Belfast.

[2] Scotlands People, Valuation Rolls 1920

[3] Grace’s Guide to British Industry

[4] Wikiwand, James Howden

[5] “A Hundred Years of Howden Engineering” (1954).

by Crawford W Hume, James Howden & Co Ltd. Mitchell Library.

[6] Wikipedia search for James Howden

[7] op. cit. Wikiwand, James Howden,

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] op. cit. Douglas Hume; p 39

[11] ibid. 

[12] op. cit. Douglas Hume p.48-49

[13] ibid.

[14] op cit. Douglas Hume p.40

[15] op cit. Douglas Hume p.49

[16] op. cit. Grace’s Guide to British Industry

[17] op. cit. Douglas Hume p.49

[18] The Bailie, Man You Know Vol. XCIII, No 2419, 26 Feb. 1919, Mitchell Library

[19] op. cit. Douglas Hume p.54,

[20] Obituary The Glasgow Herald, Thursday, May 26, 1938, Obituaries.

[21] ibid.

[22] op. cit. Douglas Hume p.188-191 . 

James Carfrae Alston, 1835-1913


Alston 001 Alston portrait
© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collection: The Mitchell Library, Special Collections

Our donor, James Carfrae Alston, son of Thomas Scott Alston and Jessie Seaton Alston was born on 18th August 1835 in Glasgow. His father was a “Cloth Merchant”[1]. James Carfrae Alston  was married to Bertine Amelia Wood and they both lived at  18 Oakfield Terrace , Glasgow[2] for a few years and  then moved to 9 Lorraine Gardens, Partick, Glasgow,where  his wife died in 1908 [3].

In 1909, he gifted to the Kelvingrove Gallery his art collection. Some of the paintings with their titles and the artists’ names are shown below within the text. The letter, offering his collection of paintings to the Corporation of Glasgow, which was sent from his club to the Lord Provost of the day by Mr Alston, is reproduced below:

Western Club


7th July 1909.

Dear Ld. Provost,

I beg to offer for your acceptance, as the official head of my native city, the gift of small collection of pictures and of one bronze, to be the property of the Corp. of Glasgow and to be placed in their galleries.

The pictures are characteristic of the thirteen artists represented, and I may venture to say are of good quality.

It will be gratification to me should they be the means of affording pleasure to many as they to myself.

I am,

Yours faithfully,

J. Carfrae Alston.

Our donor, James, did not follow his father’s footsteps as a cloth merchant but decided to be a tobacco merchant. From the Valuation Roll [4], it is seen that he established his premises in 27, James Watt Street, Glasgow. From a very early age our donor showed a deep interest in civic affairs. So much so that, when he was a young man, he was one of ten men, who started the Scottish Volunteer Movement in Glasgow on 2nd May, 1859 [5,6]. He served with the group for 20 years and he left with the title of Major.

The well-known Boys Brigade, which was first formed by Mr W.A. Smith in 1883, had a lot in common with the Volunteer Movement. Therefore, it was not surprising that, in 1885 the Executive of the Boys Brigade appointed Mr. J. Carfrae Alston as Brigade President and Mr. W. A. Smith as Brigade Secretary as Mr Smith had declined to be the president and preferred to be the secretary.

Another important activity in our donor’s life was to continue with the good work of his grandfather, John Alston, at the blind Asylum. His grandfather did a great deal of work by helping to improve the system of reading for the blind by the means of raised Roman characters which later gained wide acceptance before the ascendancy of Braille. John Alston maintained that ‘blind children can be trained to do almost anything’ [7]. Boys who attended the asylum were aged 10 to 16 and, in addition to attending classes, they made nets for wall-trees and sewed sacks, while girls were educated along gendered lines and assisted in household work and knitted silk purses, stockings and caps [8].


(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Fish Wives by the Sea by B. J. Bloomers © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (

At the National Archives [9], they hold two copies of what is thought to be the first ‘tactile’ map of Great Britain and Ireland made for the use of blind people.  Produced at the Glasgow Asylum for the Blind in 1839, the maps are made of thick paper with the lines and other details embossed so that they can be ‘seen’ by the reader’s fingertips. Although Braille had already been invented, it did not come into common use in the United Kingdom until later in the nineteenth century, so the text is written with raised versions of ordinary letters.

The National Archives hold these two maps because John Alston, the Asylum’s director, sent them to London to draw the government’s attention to the work done by his organisation and to the difficulty and expense of producing books and similar materials for blind people. One copy is marked for the attention of Lord John Russell [10], Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the other for Fox Maule [11], the Under-Secretary. However, Treasury records [12] reveal that Mr Alston’s appeal to the government was successful. The Glasgow Asylum was awarded a grant of £400 towards printing bibles in raised type.

Our Donor continued the family’s interest in the needs of the blind and was one of the managers of the Blind Asylum. Furthermore, he was a director of the Glasgow Training Home for Nurses and of Glasgow Day Nurseries Association.  He was also a member of the Juvenile Delinquency Board. On his business side, he was head of the firm of Alston Brothers of Tobacco Bonded Stores in James Watt Street, Glasgow.  These stores were sold in 1903.

Apart from being a very active man in civic affairs, he was also interested in cultural affairs. He travelled widely with his wife, Bertine Amelia, to Europe, Egypt and India. He was an art collector and specialised in The Hague School, Whistler and the Glasgow Boys. He was a member of the Royal Glasgow Institute of Art and he often generously lent from his art collection to many exhibitions, including the 1901 Glasgow Exhibition.  One of his collection Whistler’s “The Shell”, which was among his loan to the exhibition was considered to be sensuous. This particular work by Whistler was bought in 1892 from the Glaswegian art dealer Alexander Reid. More reference to “The Shell” may be found in [13].


Fairy Lilian by D. Y. Cameron RSA
Fairy Lilian by D Y Cameron RSA © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (

Our donor, James Carfrae Alston, died on 20th November 1913, at Dowanhill, Glasgow [14]. The following obituary note appeared in the Glasgow Herald of 21st November 1913:

Obituary   21st November 1913 Glasgow Herald.

Alston- at 9 Lorraine Gardens Dowanhill, Glasgow on 20th November 1913 James C. Alston aged 78 eldest son of Thomas  C. Alston- Funeral on Saturday 22nd November from Westbourne  Church,  Funeral service at

Officers who served in the 1st Lanarkshire Rifles volunteer corp., Officers of the Boys Brigade and those associated with Mr Alston in other departments of public work are invited to be present at the service.

No uniforms will be worn. Personnel who wish to attend, personal friends who desire to be present at the interment at the Western Necropolis will send their names to Messrs Wylie and Lockhead, 96 Union Street.  Carriages from St. Georges Church till 3.30p.m.  No followers by special request.


[1] James Carfrae Alston’s Death Certificate,

[2] 1881 Scotland’s Census (ibid.).

[3] Death Certificate of Mrs Amelia Carfrae Alston, 1908 (ibid.)

[4] Valuation Roll for the City and Royal Burgh of Glasgow for the year 1895-1896 (ibid.)

[5] Scotland’s Volunteer Movement 1859:

London Gazette NOVEMBER 1, 1870. 4691:

[6] Records of the Scottish Volunteer Force 1859-1908:

[7] Iain Hutchison, Department of History, University of Strathclyde,

[8] Alston, J. “Statements of the education, employments, and international arrangements, adopted at the Asylum for the Blind”, (1842, 1895 reprint), pub. Glasgow. London: Sampson. Low, Marston.

[9] The National Archives.

[10] Lord John Russell

[11] Fox Maule

[12] The National Archives, op.cit.

[13] J.M. Whistler The Shell

[14] Death Certificate, op.cit.




James Donald (1830-1905)

James Donald was one of the principal donors to the Kelvingrove Gallery. Over his lifetime, he collected paintings from The Hague School, French Barbizon School and also from British artists such as Turner and Constable. Towards the end of nineteenth century, he also used to loan a number of his paintings to exhibitions held in Glasgow and Edinburgh. The bequest to the Gallery from James Donald in 1905, which contained paintings of the nineteenth century Dutch, French and British oil paintings and watercolours, set the foundation for the Kelvingrove Galleries’ Impressionist Collection. During his lifetime, James Donald also made significant donations to his home town of Bothwell.

James Donald was born in 1830 in Bothwell, Lanarkshire. His parents were Mr John Donald, a grocer and spirit dealer in Bothwell and Mrs Jane (Lang) Donald. He had two older brothers, John born in 1826 and Gavin born in 1828 and a younger brother Robert who died in infancy. After the deaths of his father John Donald in 1834, when our donor was only four years old, and his brother John Jr. in 1841 [1], his mother Mrs Jane Donald found herself running the business as grocer and spirit dealer alone and looking after two young boys. This difficult period in the Donald Family’s life is somehow relieved when Mrs Donald, our donor’s mother married George Miller, a manufacturing chemist in 1843 (the Banns were proclaimed in Bothwell and Glasgow). In the 1851 census, it is recorded that the family has moved to 3 James Street, Calton, Lanarkshire near Bridgeton. However, in this census, our donor, James Donald is not listed with the family. The occupation of Mr Miller, James Donald’s stepfather is listed as the Head of the household and his occupation is described as manufacturing chemist employing 74 men in his firm.

From the Glasgow Post Office Directories 1905-1906 [2]  the name and the address of his stepfather’s Chemical Manufacturing firm to be:

Miller, George, & Co., gas coal-tar distillers, manufacturers of sulphate of ammonia, naphthas,  benzoles, pitch, carbolic acid, creosote, and dipping  oils; 40 West Nile Street.

The works; 89 Rumford St.

Miller, Geo., commission agent; 20 Smith St., Hillhead.

In the 1861 census, the Miller Family is still in Glasgow but James is still not with them. At the time of the 1861 census, the family had moved to 137 Greenhead St, Calton, Glasgow. In the 1871 census, James Donald re-appears. He is now 39 years old and the address is Wingfield Bothwell Lanarkshire. He is recorded as the stepson of the Householder George Miller (retired manufacturing chemist) and his occupation is recorded as Manufacturing Chemist.

During this period (1861), there appears to be a court case taken against George Miller and Company by the famous chemist James (Paraffin) Young and others with regard to some dispute over patent infringement [3]. However, the name of James Donald does not appear in the records quoted.

James Donald’s stepfather George Miller of Wingfield Bothwell died on the 5th January 1877.  His estate was valued [4] at £13,649 8s 5d with an additional estate of £410.

In the 1881 census, James appears on the census as living at 5 Queens Terrace, Barony, Lanark. He is the head of the house and his brother Gavin is staying with him. There is also a domestic servant in the house by the name of Margaret Nicholson. In the 1891 census, it is recorded that James is now 60 years old and married to Emily Mary. Mr and Mrs Donald are living with their daughter also called Emily. There are four others in the household. Their address is recorded as: 5 Queens Terrace, Barony, Lanark.

In the 1901 census, James Donald appears in the English Census as living in 96 Anerly Park, Anerly, London SE, Borough of Camberwell, Hamlet of Penge. He is living with his wife Emily Mary and two servants. His son-in-law Harry Busby lives with Emily at 94 Anerly Park, Anerly, London.

On the 16th March 1905, Mr James Donald died. The following notice was recorded in the Death Notices of the Glasgow Herald [5] of 21st  March 1905:

Donald, – At 96 Anerly Park Anerly, London on 16th March (inst.) James Donald also of 5 Queens Terrace, Glasgow – Friends please accepts this (the only) intimation.  

 The key words which was used in this search was ‘manufacturing chemist’, the profession of Mr James Donald.  It was evident that James Donald, the donor, worked in his stepfather’s firm, George Miller and Co. in Glasgow as a Manufacturing Chemist.  Because of the scientific nature of his profession, initially, it was assumed that he might have been a graduate of Glasgow University. However, a search in the register of graduates revealed that his name did not appear there. We know that all university students do not necessarily graduate for one reason or another. Therefore, it is possible that Mr Donald may have attended the university but not graduated. No further search was made as to his university education.

From his collection which was bequeathed in 1905, it was clear that he was a keen art collector. As there were a number of well known art dealers in Glasgow in the 1880s, such as Alexander Reid and Craig Angus, it was fairly easy for him to indulge in collecting the works of the new art of the era. Our donor was particularly interested in the artists of the Hague School of the Netherlands and French Realists such as Jozef Israëls and Jean Francoise Millet respectively.

Furthermore, it is known that he also made significant contributions to Bothwell, the town of his birth. Firstly, in 1880, he donated the Centre Window of the Bothwell Parish Church [6]. This is a three-light window whose theme is a series of six parables drawn by Sir John E Millais R A which originally appeared in a magazine called “Good Words” edited by Dr Norman Macleod [7] in the 1860s. Other portions of the windows were designed and the entire work was executed by Cottier & Co. of London in 1880. A picture of this window is depicted below.


Bothwell Parish Church Window
Figure 1. Centre Window of Bothwell Parish Church. Courtesy of the Rev.James Gibson.

An inscription on the brass plate beneath the picture states “This window was gifted by Mr James Donald in expression of his appreciation of the order in which the parish Church graveyard had been put by the Heritor’s of Bothwell during the Ministry of the Rev. John Pagan M A, March 1880.”

Secondly, another contribution of James Donald was to erect a monument to Joanna Baillie, who was a famous daughter of Bothwell. Her father, Rev. James Baillie (c.1722–1778), was a Presbyterian minister and briefly, during the two years before his death, a Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow. Her mother Dorothea Hunter (c.1721–1806) was a sister of the great physicians and anatomists, William and John Hunter.

Joanna Baillie was born in the manse behind the church on 11th September 1762. Her father having died in 1776, Joanna and the family moved to London where she was later to become a friend of Sir Walter Scott. Joanna spent the rest of her life in Hampstead where she is buried. Here, she was to gain fame as a poet and a playwright, often writing in her native lowland Scots dialect, her verse “Family Legend” being one of her best known works. A picture of the Joanna Bailley Memorial is shown below. More information about Bothwell Church and Joanna Baillie monument may be obtained from the links below.

Monument to Joanna Baillie
Figure 2. Joanna Bailley Memorial in Bothwell. Courtesy of the Rev. James Gibson


The third  important contribution made by James Donald to the town of Bothwell was to leave money in his will for a place of education and recreation for boys. This resulted in the building of the Donald Institute in 1910 by the architect Alexander Cullen who had secured the commission by competition. Later, the Donald Institute was converted to Bothwell Public Library which to this day contains a room dedicated to James Donald called the “Donald Institute”.  More information can be obtained from the following link:

When he died on 16th March 1905, James Donald bequeathed to the Corporation in trust of the City of Glasgow a large number of paintings and bric-a-brac. A descriptive inventory and valuation of the pictures etc. had been prepared by an expert, who had valued the bequest at over £42,000 (in the year of 1905). The pictures include some of the finest examples of Turner, W.Q. Orchardson, Velasquez, Corot, Rousseau, Millet, Kalf and other eminent artists. The copies of the official minutes are kept by the Corporation of the City of Glasgow, in chronological order. Below are the 4 of his 40 paintings that James Donald gifted to the Gallery.

The Happy Family by Josef Israels
Figure 3. The Happy Family by Jozef Isarels. © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (


Figure 4. Going to Work by Juan Francoise Millet. © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (


Maris, Jacob Henricus, 1837-1899; A Girl Asleep on a Sofa
Figure 5. A Girl Asleep on a Sofa by Jacob Henricus Maris. © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (


Turner, Joseph Mallord William, 1775-1851; Italian Scene with Boats and Figures
Figure 6. Italian Scene with Boats and Figures by J.M.W. Turner. © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (


[1] Graves of his Father and two brothers

[2] Mitchell Library, Glasgow, PO Glasgow Directory, 1905-1906, p. 542.

[3] Corporate.  May 2010. Shale Oil. [Accessed on 19 March 2018].

[4] Confirmations and Inventories,. Mitchell Library. Glasgow. Year 1877, p 382.

[5] Death Notices. 21st March 1905. Glasgow Herald.

[6] Bothwell Parish Church [Accessed on 19 March 2018].

[7] Dr Norman Macleod, Good Words., [Accessed on 19 March 2018].

[8] Joanna Baillie-monument., [Accessed on 19 March 2018].

Arthur Kay HRSA (1862-1939)

Gunn, Herbert James, 1893-1964
Figure.1 Gunn, Herbert James; Arthur Kay; © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

Herbert Gunn: British portrait painter. (born Glasgow, 30 June 1893; died London, 30 Dec. 1964).


One of the most extraordinary and best known collectors of art of the last two centuries, without a doubt, is Arthur Kay. He is a contemporary of such collectors as James Donald, Sir William Burrell and W. A. Coats. Arthur Kay started collecting [1], just like William Burrell when he was a young boy. He, alongside the other wealthy industrialists and ship owners of his time, represents the energy, the entrepreneurship and foresight of the Victorian/Edwardian Eras. Arthur Kay was born in London in 1862 where his father John Robert Kay had a retail business. In 1870 they moved to Glasgow to join the board of a company called Arthur & Co., which was a retail company doing business home and overseas as wholesale distributers. They were the second largest rate payers in Glasgow after the railway companies. The company had businesses in the colonies and beyond, in fact, all over the world. At home, they had a shirt factory in Glasgow, a garment factory in Leeds and a linen factory in Londonderry. It is appropriate to mention here that the company was one of the first to make ready made clothes.


Our donor, Arthur Kay, made three gifts to the Kelvingrove Galleries. In June 1902, he presented to Kelvingrove Gallery a painting entitled “First State Visit of Queen Victoria to the City of London, Nov. 1837, Passing St. Pauls” by Sir George Hayter. This was the year the Gallery was opened to the public and also the first anniversary of Queen Victoria’s death. A copy of that painting is shown below.

“First State Visit of Queen Victoria to the City of London, Nov. 1837, Passing St. Pauls” by Sir George Hayter"
Figure 2 First State Visit of Queen Victoria to the City of London, Nov. 1837, Passing St. Pauls” by Sir George Hayter”© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

Sir George Hayter, an historical and portrait painter was the son of a miniaturist, Charles Hayter (1761–1835). He studied at the Royal Academy Schools and in Rome and in 1837 he was appointed portrait and history painter to Queen Victoria, and in 1841 he was made ‘principal painter in ordinary to the queen’. He is known chiefly for his royal portraits and his huge groups.

The other gift given to the Gallery was “Still Life: Haddock, Plaice, Crabs and Lobster” by Abraham van Beyeren (1620-1690) and it is shown below.

donor image 3
Figure 3 “Still Life: Haddock, Plaice, Crabs and Lobster” by Abraham van Beyeren (1620-1690) © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

van Beyeren was a Dutch painter of still lifes, initially active as a marine painter. Now considered one of the most important painter of still lifes, and in particular still lifes of fish.

The third painting was by William Kidd (1790-1863) and it is called “The Art Connoisseur” which is now not shown.


The Kay Family settled in Glasgow and lived at 27, Belhaven Terrace. Arthur was educated at Park School until the age of twelve and then in Rosshall School, in Lancashire. After his school education, Arthur attended Glasgow University. In his book “Treasure Throve in Art [2], it is mentioned that “He overworked at the University and did not complete his degree”. Instead he went abroad and studied art at Paris, Hanover, Leipzig and Berlin. While still in his teens he visited South Africa and Australia. His impressions of both colonies were afterwards embodied in two papers read before the Glasgow Philosophical Society [3]. When his education was completed, Mr Arthur Kay joined his father in Glasgow where both were directors in Arthur and Co.

His first wife, Edith came from a military family. Her father was Captain John Grahame, son of Major Grahame of Glenny, her brother was Captain C. Grahame and their cousin was General Sir Archibald Hunter, K.C.B., D.S.O.  In 1889, Arthur and Edith had a daughter and named her Dorothy. After the death of his wife Edith in 1927, Arthur Kay married again.  His second wife was the artist Katherine Cameron, sister of the artist D.Y. Cameron.

As a director of a large textile firm paying very high rates, he was interested in the financial affairs of the Glasgow Corporation and he was a vociferous critic of them. Among the many motions opposed by him was the one put forward by Sir Samuel Chisholm for social housing [4]. Arthur Kay was chairman of the Tenants Federation and this idea was vehemently opposed by him. As a result Sir Samuel Chisholm’s idea was thrown out. He was tireless in writing letters and pamphlets.  He also read a vigorous paper before the Philosophical Society [5] in 1903 on “Municipal Trading with a special reference to the Sinking Funds of Glasgow Corporation,” and he published an exhaustive analysis of the intromissions of “The Corporation of Glasgow as owners of Shops, Tenements and Warehouses.”

However, his main interest was in the fine arts. During his life, he had formed a valuable collection of Dutch Old Masters and Japanese Lacquer Work [6]. Interest in Japanese Art started in Europe in the mid-19th century due to trade starting again between Japan and Europe which had stopped since the 16th century.  As Japanese Art was totally different from European Art, it made quite an impact on the European artists as well as on private collectors of art as and Museums and Art Galleries. Arthur Kay was among the earliest collectors of Japanese Lacquer Art. There were exhibitions and lectures held in Glasgow. In 1878 the Glasgow city museums received the gift of a small but distinguished collection of Japanese art from the Japanese Government [7].

Our donor, Arthur Kay, kept his eye on the art world and was excited with the things to come.

In 1892, he decided to go to a London auction to see some paintings that included one of Degas’. The painting was called “Au Café” and much to his surprise when the painting was shown on the easel, it was hissed by the crowd. Upon seeing this reaction, he decided that he would watch (from afar) what the dealers would do. A Glasgow dealer, one Alexander Reid, bid for the picture and finally bought it. Later, after the auction, Arthur Kay bought it from him. The truth was, of course, that the Impressionists were beginning to become popular and Reid, who was a well-known art dealer in Glasgow, was extremely pleased to sell this particular painting to a Scottish collector.

Furthermore, Kay was delighted with his purchase and hung it “in a position where he could see it constantly”. However, because of the unfavourable reaction that it provoked among his peers, eventually Kay was persuaded to return the picture to Reid, although only temporarily. In his book [8] he writes: “It had not been away for 48 hours before I went back to the dealer [Reid] in order to recover it, and bought another work by Degas called “Repetition”.

Having rebought “Au Café” along with “the Repetition”, Kay now owned two works by Degas. He then lent both his works to the inaugural exhibition of the Grafton Galleries in London, where Au Café in particular, caused a tremendous stir. Au Café was exhibited under the title “L’Absinthe”, thus drawing attention to the shocking subject-matter l’absinthe–the green evil drink. It was described in the press as “vulgar and revolting” and it was probably this unfavourable reception which embarrassed Kay and prompted him to part with both works, despite his liking for L’Absinthe.

Finally, to stop this embarrassment caused by this furore, in April 1893, Kay sold the painting once again — this time to Parisian dealers Martin & Camentron. As a result, L’Absinthe left the shores of England, not to offend the sensitivities of the bourgeoisie any more. It was then sold by the dealers to Count Isaac de Camondo and was bequeathed to the Louvre later. The painting now hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.

One of the commanding masterpieces of Impressionist art had been in Scotland for a few months and in England for just 17 years before being sent back to France on a wave of disgust. In his book Arthur Kay devotes a few pages to the upheaval initiated by this painting which caused quite a few art critics of the day writing furious letters to the press. The editor of Westminster Gazette asked Arthur Kay to respond to these critics and after discussing the critics comments, Arthur Kay writes a long letter to the Westminster Gazette, 29 March 1893 pp 28-30 which is reproduced in his book “Treasure Throve in Art” [9]. Towards the end of his letter he makes the following remarks: “Degas will be understood, and in a few years those who blame will praise, and those who curse will bless”

donor image
Figure 4 ” A Cafe on the Place du Theatre Francais by Manet. Burrell Collection, Glasgow. © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums.

However, Kay continued to collect Impressionist paintings and it was not long before he acquired another work of a similar type to L’Absinthe. It was Manet’s small pastel “A Café, Place du Théâtre Français” of 1881 which he loaned later to the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1901 and later sold it to William Burrell. A copy of this painting is reproduced on the left.

Another painting which caused some embarrassment to Arthur Kay was the painting “Interior of a Church” by Pieter Saenredam, an architect and master painter of churches. At that time Pieter Saenredam’s work was not well known, but our donor was very impressed with it and bought it. The dealer mentioned that the director of the National Gallery in London had wanted it for the national collection, but could not get the money to buy it. He told the dealer that he would leave it to the National Gallery in his will. After some time, he decided to donate it and he sent it off to them. But much to his surprise, he received a letter from the National Gallery in London saying that, they regretted the decision but owing to the fact that it had been much restored and re-painted, they could not accept it.

Kay was very surprised and withdrew his offer and said it would be shown in 1902 Exhibition in Burlington House.  After the exhibition he received a telegram from Amsterdam National Gallery asking if he would sell the painting to the Dutch Nation. Then, not long after that, he received a letter from the National Gallery in London trying to make amends for having sent the painting back by mistake. He wrote to the National Gallery that he would let them have it and would let bygones be bygones. The Glasgow Herald told this amusing story on the 4th March 1929. A copy of this painting by Saenredam is shown below.

donor image 7
Figure 5 “Interior of a Church” by Pieter Saenredam © National Gallery, London.

Our donor, Arthur Kay, was also interested in the modern Scottish Art. In 1908 he bought the painting Baby Crawford” painted in 1902 by Bessie MacNicol, probably at “McTears Salesroom” in Glasgow, after the death of Alexander Frew, the late MacNicol’s husband. Then, in the same year, he presented it to the Scottish Modern Arts Association (SMAA) [10].

Previously, Mr Kay was known chiefly by the interest which he took in fine arts and he, over six decades, built a large art collection. He was also a specialist on early Dutch painting and had frequently lent pictures from his fine collection to enrich local and other exhibitions. He had made an exhaustive study and formed a valuable collection of Japanese Lacquer Work. He was a member of the Burlington Fine Arts Club, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London. He was also Hon.Treasurer of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts and a Vice-President of the Council of the Tariff Reform League, London.

He had written much in the Glasgow and London press and spoken on local art occasions in advocacy of the best interests of art in municipal picture buying [11]. As well as all these activities, by 1909, Kay had been a director for 20 years of Arthur & Co. Ltd. At this date his collection was notable for early Dutch paintings and Japanese lacquer ware, but it came to encompass many eras and schools. When sold in 1943, it included 252 pictures attributed to a wide range of artists from Boudin to Zurburan, Reynolds to Couture, and 40 drawings by Daumier, Degas, Manet, Monet, Guardi, Brueghel, Tiepolo and others. Christie’s, in 8–9 Apr. 1943, sold a total of 291 lots of his collection.

Arthur Kay was a pioneer. In 1932, Arthur Kay, as Chairman of the Scottish Modern Arts Association (SMAA), petitioned for ‘a modern place of art in Edinburgh – a Tate Gallery’, a concept that manifested 28 years later in the form of The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (SNGMA). In 1964 the majority of works owned by the SMAA were donated to the City of Edinburgh. His concept , in 1932, of establishing a modern place of art in Edinburgh, which came to being 28 years later, shows that our donor Arthur Kay did not only have a highly incisive eye for fine art but he was also a man who had a keen foresight of things to come.

Mr Arthur Kay died on 1st January 1939 at 4.30 pm at 11 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh. He was 77 years old. The funeral of Mr Arthur Kay, HRSA was held in Edinburgh Crematorium on 4th January 1939. Representative company of artists, art lovers and other friends of the late Mr Arthur Kay, HRSA attended the funeral.

In Glasgow University, there is collection of manuscript relating to Arthur Kay. These manuscripts [12] contain information regarding to his endeavours as an artist himself and some of his paintings. These manuscripts also contain a great deal of correspondence between him and some art dealers (e.g. Alex Reid) and art critics of his time (e.g. D.S. MacColl).


[1] Kay, Arthur (1939) Treasure Trove in Art. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.

[2] Ibid

[3] Eyre-Todd, George (1909) Who’s Who in Glasgow in 1909. Glasgow: Gowans and Gray Ltd.

[4] The Bailey, No 1483, Wednesday, March 20th 1901;

[5] Kay, op.cit.

[6] Eyre-Todd, op.cit.

[7]Billcliffe, Roger. (2008). The Glasgow Boys. ed. 2.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Tanner, Ailsa. (1998). Bessie MacNicol, New Woman. Privately published in Great Britain by the Author, 1998, ISBN 0 9533697 0 6

[11] Letters to the Editor, CORPORATION PICTURE BUYING, Winton Drive,Glasgow, Kay,Arthur.Glasgow Herald, 16 Feb.1894, p.11.

[12] University of Glasgow Special Collections: Arthur Kay.