Memorial concert planned for Borders art pioneer Douglas Hall

A pioneering arts administrator is to be remembered at a memorial concert featuring music he loved.

By Paul Kelly
Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 6:02 pm
Douglas Hall.
Douglas Hall.

Douglas Hall was the first keeper of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh from 1961 to 1986, helping put together a respected collection of 20th century art for the nation.

His independent and sometimes-idiosyncratic taste helped shape a collection which today would cost hundreds of millions of pounds to assemble.

Mr Hall died at Kelso Cottage Hospital in April at the age of 92 and is survived by his second wife, Matilda Hall, a son and daughter from his first marriage and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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Curator Douglas Hall stands beside one of the outdoor sculptures in the gardens of the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art in Belford Road Edinburgh in 1986.

Aside from art, his other great love was music, and he was an enthusiastic singer.

At 3pm on Sunday, September 29, there will be a concert of music in his memory at Morebattle Parish Church.

Mr Hall had retired to an old manse in Morebattle with Matilda after they got married in 1980.

Remaining active and productive in latter years, he wrote the study Art in Exile: Polish Painters in Post-War Britain in 2008, for which the Polish government awarded him its gloria artis medal.

He also enjoyed gardening and performing with several choirs.

And despite failing eyesight and poor hearing, he continued to attend art gallery openings in Edinburgh until his final months, with his delight in looking at paintings and talking about them never waning.

Admission for this month’s concert is free, and there will be a retiring collection in aid of charity.

Matilda, 78, said: “Douglas was a very modest person with a dry wit. He was very amusing and congenial and he had a great capacity for loving people and had many friends.

“He loved music, and the concert will feature some of his favourite pieces.

“Douglas loved to sing and he sang in three choirs.

“We moved to Morebattle on Douglas’s 70th birthday in 1996. It is a perfect, magical place which houses our joint art collection.

“Previous to that, we had lived in a cottage east of Lauder.

“Douglas remained active until late in his life and still loved to get into Edinburgh for gallery openings.

“In the end, as his son put it, he just ran out of living.”

Geoffrey Emerson, of Yetholm, is organising the concert, having got to know Mr Hall around 14 years ago.

He said: “Douglas was a reallty, really nice man who lived a very interesting life and he was also the patron of Yetholm Symphonia, which I founded.

“The concert will feature a choir of 12 singers, a wind quintet and a string quartet, and there will be a mixture of music that Douglas loved as a way of marking and celebrating his life.

“There will be songs by Lady John Scott, who wrote Annie Laurie, a movement from Brahms’ Requiem and a very jolly Mozart piece for flute and strings.”

Mr Hall was born in October 1926 to parents from Selkirk who had moved to London 18 months earlier.

He went to University College School in Hampstead and was called up in 1944, working in the Intelligence Corps until 1948.

He had intended to train as an architect but on a friend’s suggestion enrolled at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London.

After being appointed first keeper of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art he gradually built up an impressive collection.

He never bought work by giants such as Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol and Lucian Freud, instead acquiring pieces by Polish artists and masterpieces by less obvious artists such as RB Kitaj, Marcel Broodthaers and Duane Hanson.