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Martin Baillie

Painter, art historian and critic.

Born: March 4, 1920; Died: December 18, 2012.

Martin Baillie, who has died aged 92, was a gifted painter, art historian and critic, who taught art history of Glasgow University and wrote about art in The Herald.

He was born in Edinburgh and attended Edinburgh College of Art, where he studied painting and was awarded the major travelling scholarship which first enabled him to see much of the western world's great art in situ.

A lifelong socialist and a conscientious objector, he was exempted from service in the Second World War but decided to enlist because of his detestation of Hitler's regime. He served as a radio operator with the RAF in India, where he spent much of his time with the Indian troops, enjoying, he said, both the company and the food.

After a spell lecturing in Leeds, he came to Glasgow in 1954 to become a tutor in art history in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies (as it then was) at the University of Glasgow. For many years he was also art critic of the Glasgow Herald, where his exhibition reviews were models of lively but balanced judgment.

As a painter, he exhibited widely and his work is found in both public and private collections. He cared little for artistic fashions and as many came and went, pursued his own distinctive figurative style, his family being submitted to constant sketching as references for his painting.

A perfectionist, he was stubbornly reluctant to consider any painting finished, and both home and workplace were richly furnished with stacks of canvases at various stages.

He was a superb lecturer, with a passion for his subject, an immense depth and width of knowledge, and the great gift of distilling this vividly for a non-specialist audience. He might start by analysing a painting's technical features with great clarity, and then open up a whole period, a group of painters, a section of society, a way of thinking different from our own, since for him art could never be considered in isolation from the society that gave it birth. There was little trace in these lectures of the Martin Baillie who was notably absent-minded in daily life, although his wickedly dry humour was never far away.

He also pioneered many collaborative courses and study tours, with his second wife Pat, a popular history tutor, and with colleagues in literature, theatre, photography and music – including his oldest friend and colleague in the department, the distinguished composer Thomas Wilson. Every year from 1979 onwards there were adult students who partly owed their university degrees and sometimes later careers to his initial teaching on the department's Access course.

When he retired as senior lecturer in art history in 1985, he continued to teach part-time, and even after his final retirement in 2008 went on lecturing privately to groups of devoted students who had become lifelong friends.

As his son Peter remembers, it seemed for a long time that Martin Baillie was one of those people who live life in a way that doesn't really have time for inconveniences like illness and death. When told a number of years ago that he had a blood condition which might eventually kill him, he replied characteristically, "Well, it better hurry up, or I'm going to die of old age".

Wholehearted in his work, he enjoyed relaxing in good company, was fond of a good argument but always courteous in disagreement.

His outlived both his first wife Ella and second wife Pat, whom he married after Ella's death. He is survived by his sons David and Peter and his daughter Elizabeth, the children of his first marriage, and by four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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