Pamela Robertson

Curator, Hunterian Art Gallery

George Smith MA, art collector; 1907-1997

GEORGE Smith was a lifelong enthusiast for the visual arts and over 30 years built up one of the choicest private collections of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

George Smith spent his life in Glasgow, the city of his birth. Modest family circumstances precluded a career as an architect and instead he worked as a cost accountant for the leather manufacturer, John Tullis. Art not commerce was his guiding passion. His encyclopaedic knowledge was almost entirely self-taught, aided by evening classes in fine art at Glasgow School of Art.

His collection began relatively late, in 1955, with the purchase of a still-life by Leslie Hunter; the Scottish Colourists and Glasgow Boys were to form important areas of his collection. The central passion of his life was triggered in 1952 by the publication of Thomas Howarth's pioneering biography of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. He later explained: ''For me Charles Rennie Mackintosh is to architecture and design as Mozart is to music.''

Mackintosh was not unfamiliar to him: from childhood he had visited Miss Cranston's tea rooms and in 1933 he had been a regular visitor to the Mackintosh Memorial Exhibition. Mackintosh's sister, Ellen, had been a life-long friend of his mother.

With a perceptive eye and dogged determination, he tracked down Mackintosh watercolours and furniture from dealers and auction houses in Glasgow and elsewhere, and from the relatives and friends of Mackintosh's family and associates, sometimes waiting patiently for 10 years to secure a purchase. Much of this was achieved before the sky-high prices established in the late 1970s. In this way he established a select Mackintosh collection of world-class importance.

Passion, not investment, motivated his collecting. Each work was researched, documented, and debated with scholarship and zeal. The collection was shared with the public, from the landmark Mackintosh centenary exhibition in 1968 to last year's major retrospective in Glasgow. Since the early 1980s key works from the full spectrum of his collection have been on permanent display in the Hunterian Art Gallery where, in 1988, the collection was the focus of a special exhibition and publication.

His valued support to the Hunterian was recognised by the University of Glasgow in 1987 with the conferral of an honorary degree. He was also an active supporter of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, of which he was a founding committee member. In his mid seventies he signed up as one of Glasgow Art Gallery's first volunteer guides, overcoming his reserve and deafness to share his love of art with the public. It was a role he fulfilled enthusiastically until just last year.

He is survived by a brother and a nephew.