Obituary: Robert Edward Hutchinson, 90

Robin Hutchison

Robin Hutchison

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THE longest-serving keeper of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery has died at the age of 90.

Robert Edward Hutchinson, known as Robin, was keeper for nearly 30 years, beginning in 1953 and retiring in 1982.

He was born in Edinburgh on August 4, 1922, the son of WO Hutchinson and Margery Walton. His father was part of the Hutchinson flour-milling dynasty of Kirkcaldy, who also went on to be a successful painter, principal of Glasgow School of Art and president of the Royal Scottish Academy.

His mother was the daughter of famous artist 
EA Walton, and her sister, Cecile Walton, is also described as one of the most interesting painters of the last century.

After attending school at Gresham’s in Norfolk, Robin enlisted for the army at the outbreak of the Second World War, serving in Burma with the Black Watch.

In 1946, he married Heather Bird and in 1949 began his career at the Portrait Gallery as an assistant to keeper AE Haswell Miller, their main concern at the time being getting the gallery re-hung and reopened to the public now that the war was over.

It was only four years later, in 1953, that Robin succeeded Haswell Miller as keeper. Described as “a formidable, but always kindly figure” by one of those who then assisted him, Robin was one of the first in the art world to provide descriptive labels alongside paintings, allowing members of the public to learn more about the work than simply who it was painted by and what it was called.

It was also thanks to Robin that thousands of engravings and works of art have now been catalogued at the gallery, after he appointed historian and biographer Rosalind Marshall to look after the vast collection.

He also appointed Sara Stevenson to take care of the Print Room, which ultimately led to the founding of the Scottish Photography Archive – now the Scottish National Photography Collection.

He is also credited with the introduction of a series of annual exhibits that went on to become a feature of the Edinburgh Festival.

Though he did not contribute to all of the exhibits, he was 
instrumental in bringing many of them to fruition, some of the most memorable being Costume in Scotland in the 18th Century, The Scottish Domestic Scene, Scots in Italy, A Virtuous and Noble Education, Scottish Empire and Women in Scotland 1660-1780.

Another well-known exhibition – John Michael Wright, the King’s Painter – marked Robin’s retiral in 1982, at the statutory age of 60, after which he moved to Haddington.

He died in East Yorkshire on January 7. He is survived by his daughter, Chirria, her daughter, a great-granddaughter and the son and daughter of his son, Nigel, who predeceased him.