Businessman and art collector;
Born: November 4,1917; Died: August 28, 2012.
Cyril Gerber, who has died aged 94, was one of the greatest influences on the Glasgow art scene over the last 50 years. A passionate champion of contemporary painters, he helped to turn the city into a cultural oasis for up-and-coming artists from all over Scotland and south of the Border.
A self-confessed fanatic – his love of art was evident as a teenager when he wooed his childhood sweetheart with a Van Gogh print – he relished a range of genres and encouraged others to open their minds to a wider spectrum of art.
In doing so he put Glasgow on the international map through his involvement in various galleries and captured many of the shooting stars of 20th century Scottish art along the way.
He was born in Glasgow, just before the Russian Revolution of 1917, the son of a Latvian father and a Polish mother. Educated at Albert Road Academy, Pollokshields, where he met his first wife, Betty, he later went into the family warehouse business, Gerber Brothers, in Argyle Street.
During the Second World War he served in the Royal Artillery, spending four years in Ceylon and India and rising to the rank of captain. In peacetime he returned to business in Glasgow where his father helped him set up a sweet factory. His creative streak also led him to establish a chain of cafes in which he introduced the jukebox. Later he moved into the carpet-selling business.
All of these enterprises took him around the country and, already an avid art collector, his interest in paintings intensified as he visited art and antique shops wherever he travelled. Eventually he found himself ditching the carpet business in favour of fine art.
In the early 1960s, when there were few openings in Scotland, let alone Glasgow, for young artists to showcase their work, he was invited to join his friends Bet Low, John Taylor and Tom MacDonald in their venture, The New Charing Cross Gallery. They knew him as an enthusiastic collector and, though they turned to him for business advice, he was also hugely knowledgeable on art, and became completely immersed in the enterprise as a director.
The gallery opened in 1963, in rent-free premises, and between them the directors mounted exhibitions each month for about five years.
"They were amazing days," recalled Mr Taylor, "especially for me as a young artist, and Cyril had such a fantastic rapport with artists, they trusted him implicitly."
They showed the work of many then unknown artists including Ian McKenzie Smith, Jack Knox and Anda Paterson, along with established names such as Joan Eardley, who held her first one-woman show at the gallery in 1964, and JD Fergusson, the Scottish Colourist.
Mr Gerber's interest in art had first been sparked as a youngster when he had been moved by the story of Vincent Van Gogh, a man unable to make a living out of his art and whose work went unrecognised in his own lifetime. Betty was the youthful recipient of his Van Gogh print and the work still hangs among all his other paintings.
A man who worshipped the ground artists walked on, he could not bring himself to make money out of living artists. So when the New Charing Cross closed he set up Compass Gallery, in 1969, as a charitable venture and a means of showcasing such artists.
Having persuaded numerous people to donate money to his cause, he then went on to educate himself further, taking himself off to St Ives to find out more about the Cornish-based group of artists and bringing them and their work to Scotland. His aim was to link Glasgow into the wider British art scene and raise standards north of the Border.
Among those he introduced to Glasgow were Elizabeth Frink, the sculptor, and the abstract painters Terry Frost and Roger Hilton. He also championed John Bellany, Craigie Aitchison and Alison Watt, among many others, and was instrumental in helping the New Glasgow Boys – Steven Campbell, Ken Currie, Peter Howson and Adrian Wiszniewski – step onto the ladder of success.
For years he visited the art schools in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, seeking out new talent and inviting students to meet the artists he exhibited. It was all part of his bid to improve the climate of contemporary art.
In 1990 Glasgow's Tramway hosted the Compass Contribution: 21 Years of Contemporary Art 1969-1990, featuring more than 120 artists whose work had been shown at the gallery since its inception.
And while the ethos of Compass was to provide a platform for living artists, his own Cyril Gerber Fine Art gallery, which opened in 1983, features earlier works, including those of prominent 19th-century British artists.
Honoured by Glasgow School of Art, the National Art Fund and by the Queen with an OBE in 1993, he was also awarded an honorary degree from Glasgow University for his services to the arts.
A flamboyant, sometimes obstinate yet incredibly modest man, his success was undoubtedly due in large part to his enormous personal charisma.
He enjoyed a warm relationship with countless key players in the art world, from renowned London dealers to artists all over the country and beyond, leaving all he met uplifted by his jovial personality and trademark sparkling smile.
Betty died in 1975 and his second wife, Pat, died six years ago. He is survived by his three children Laurence, Sue and Jill and extended family.
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