Mary Armour RSA, RSW, RGI, PAI, LLD; born March 27, 1902, died July 5, 2000

The skies over the Renfrewshire village of Kilbarchan went dark and brooding this week as if to pay a mark of respect to Mary Armour, the painter who had made her home there for more than 40 years and brought a considerable splash of colour to the place.

Affectionately regarded as the last of the Glasgow Girls and arguably the most noted pioneering female artist of her generation, she was renowned for her big, bold, brighter-than-a-summer day floral studies. Scotland will certainly be a much drabber place without her.

Down to earth is the phrase that keeps popping up whenever her name is mentioned. Daunting, but kind-hearted, another.

Her career began at Glasgow School of Art in 1920, Brought up in Blantyre, not the most inspirational of surroundings, she none the less maintained in later life that the greyness of its streets led to flowers playing such a key role in her work, although her father had been a keen gardener and an uncle an enthusiastic botanist.

The latter had carried a little book called Culpepper's Almanac, richly illustrated with lovely drawings, and, as a little girl, she would copy them. Once she began attending Hamilton Academy, art mistress and painter Penelope Beaton encouraged her and was, she often reminded people, the one person who deserved the credit for pointing her on the road to success.

Beaton had been responsible for persuading her father (though he had six children to support on 35 shillings a week) that his talented daughter should go to art school.

The young Armour went on to shine, winning a bursary to stay on for five years, which she described as ''heavenly''. It was there she met her future husband, William, who would eventually become head of drawing and painting.

They were married in 1927, forcing her to step down from the teaching job she had held for two years, as married women couldn't work in those days. He died in 1979, after 52 years of marriage in which she maintained they never had a quarrel.

At first they had lived in Milngavie where they started the local art club. In 1953 they moved to Kilbarchan, where the weaver's cottage she loved so much was home until 1995.

Her lifelong passion was the art school itself where she had taught from 1951-62. On her retirement at 60, she became a governor and subsequently honorary president.

Art remained a preoccupation for her entire life. Even, surrounded by friends in the nursing home where she spent her last days, she would enquire about who was doing what - and where - and demand to know how things were at her beloved building in Renfrew Street.

When she made friends, it was for life, though she was selective, not gregarious.

When you were accepted, you could expect rich rewards and challenges. If you failed to make it into the inner sanctum you would be left in no doubt. It was not possible to come in contact with such a strong character and leave feeling indifferent.

She considered her painting ''an intellectual pursuit'', like writing or composing. ''The thinking takes far more time than the actual manipulation of the oil paint,'' she said.

Some 60 years earlier, when talking to the women's page editor of The Glasgow Herald, readers got their first taste of the feisty no-nonsense style which was to become well-honed down the years. She was not one who liked to sit on the fence.

Her manner in conversation, it was reported, even at that early stage, was ''unaffected and downright''. That will certainly ring a bell with anyone who ever came in close enough contact to engage her in chat.

She let rip whenever the occasion permitted and rattled a few cages in the process with her directness.

She disliked ''all sports'' and ''poseurs'' who considered that, being artists, they were a race apart from ordinary people when in reality, she said, they were simply pompous oafs.

I once showed her a woodcut I had purchased in a Glasgow gallery. The subject was ''The Broomshed, Milngavie'' and it was, she informed my wife and I, an exercise which her husband, who had also done a similar study of the same subject, had encouraged her to do in 1935 ''to improve her perspective''.

Reunited with the long-forgotten piece after some 60 years - her eyesight was by this time starting to let her down, which infuriated her - she took out a magnifying glass, examined the work in detail, and, after a silent moment deep in thought, exclaimed modestly: ''I didn't know I was so clever.''

She was clever, no doubt. So much so that, in 1958, she barnstormed the male-dominated Royal Scottish Academy to become only its second female academician.

At the time, she was teaching still life subjects

at Glasgow School of Art,

when husband William was principal of the drawing and paint-

ing department.

Up until then, Mary Armour had been known more for landscape studies than the big still life canvasses which were finally to establish her as one of the greats of her time.

She earned her first serious attention in the mid-1930s when she carried off the prestigious Guthrie Award for the best work by a young painter exhibiting at the RSA. In 1940, she was accepted as an associate member.

Always keen to keep her hand in and encourage others, even after she had stopped painting herself due to failing eyesight, she was a stalwart of Paisley Art Institute where she became honorary vice-president.

The big ground floor room of her house in Kilbarchan's Gateside Place, which had doubled up as a studio, had jugs of all shapes and sizes which festooned the rafters.

Most had featured in her vibrant still-life studies and in recent years she went to great lengths to pair them up with the paintings in which they had a starring role, the owners of the work receiving a telephone call or note through the post inquiring if they would like to have ''their jug''.

Officially, she stopped painting in 1988, although one canvas exists which is dated 1990 - a still life she started two years earlier and tinkered away at off and on until it was finished. It has never been exhibited.

She was elected honorary president of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts in 1983.

An enthusiastic supporter of young artists (she once said that she learned much more from her students than they ever learned from her), until the end, she continued to keep an interest in the art world and left a legacy which will remain in place for years to come through an art school fellowship and other awards and prizes she created to support future generations.