John Bellany Elsie Inglis exhibition ‘stolen’, historian says

Linda Peters attends the John Bellany exhibiton at the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Julie Bull
Linda Peters attends the John Bellany exhibiton at the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Julie Bull
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A HISTORIAN and arts producer who worked with artist John Bellany on an exhibition about First World War medical pioneer Elsie Inglis claims it has been “stolen” by the Scottish Parliament.

Ian McFarlane says Holyrood bosses cancelled plans to put on the show which he had put together with the East Lothian artist – entitled Dr Elsie Inglis & Her Scottish Angels – but then went ahead with their own version of it and failed to acknowledge him.

This is an exhibition which would not exist and John Bellany would have produced no artwork without my creating and devising the whole exhibition.

Ian McFarlane

The parliament’s exhibition, John Bellany and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, opened last month and runs until April.

But Mr McFarlane, who is founder and chairman of the Dr Elsie Inglis-Scottish Women’s Hospitals’ Trust, says it is a “diminished” copy of his exhibition.

During the 1914-18 conflict, Elsie Inglis defied War Office advice and set up female-staffed field hospitals close to the front line.

Mr McFarlane says he suggested the theme to the East Lothian painter and supplied him with images and information that he used to produce 46 paintings and drawings before his death in 2013.

He said the original exhibition was due to be staged at the parliament from November 2014 until April 2015, but was cancelled a few months before.

He said: “First they said the number of artworks was going to be cut – I couldn’t understand why. What John had done was a fantastic corpus of work, it was an epic response to epic women. Many lost their lives whilst saving 300,000 soldiers’ lives.

“Then on July 18 I was told without any discussion that the exhibition had been cancelled. I couldn’t believe it. It was terrible – all that work not just by me, but by John and a potentially fabulous exhibition. I tried to have a meeting with the parliament’s events department but they would not meet us.”

Mr McFarlane received no notification of the new exhibition – which features just 19 of the 46 Bellany paintings – and no invitation to the opening.

Mr McFarlance claims the show also includes photographic stills and film footage which he researched and edited and copies of which he gave to John Bellany and the Scottish Film Archive.

He said: “This is an exhibition which would not exist and John Bellany would have produced no artwork without my creating and devising the whole exhibition.”

He also claims the parliament owes him £4500 for the work he did for the original exhibition, including preparing a catalogue, a schools pack and a lecture series.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “Ian McFarlane has no connection nor has he contributed any material or artefacts to the exhibition in the parliament.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com