It would be mistaken, however, to assume he had become a pillar of society. On the contrary, “Jimmy” as he was known, was a cheerful, youthful bohemian, ever ready to challenge the conventional.

There can be no doubt he occupied an important position within Scottish art, creating a significant body of work.The inspiration for many of his paintings was the Clyde coast and West Renfrewshire, where he lived and worked for more than 30 years. As he put it: “I have been subjected to the landscape every time I go out and it’s fascinating how it changes through winter, spring and summer.”

For Jimmy, making a painting of a landscape had nothing to do with the photographic or the illustrational. It had everything to do with his personal vision. Stan Bell, in a poem about Jimmy’s paintings called this “landscape in form, in content, painted meditation”.

He was born in Cowdenbeath, Fife. The family moved to Glasgow at the beginning of the Second World War and, after showing a talent for art from childhood, Jimmy enrolled at Glasgow School of Art in 1950. There he found himself in the company of several extraordinary fellow students – Alexander Goudie, Duncan Shanks, Alasdair Gray and Alan Fletcher, to name but a few, and was introduced to the work of his teacher, David Donaldson, as well as Joan Eardley.

Throughout this period he was extremely close to his twin brother, John, whose life was cut short by illness. They shared a love of music, especially opera, though Jimmy played drums in a jazz band which included George Wyllie on bass and Leon Morocco on clarinet.

Jimmy attended art school when the training was more rigorous than today. The director at Glasgow when he arrived was Percy Douglas Bliss. There was a two-year foundation course with a lot of drawing, a design course and one day of craft a week, with painting only introduced in the second year and only practised from the third. This enabled him to gain the kind of mastery of his craft which is all but impossible now.

After graduating, Jimmy travelled in Spain with his friend Dr George Fraser and, on his return to Scotland, took up a teaching position at Keith Grammar School. A year later, in 1959, he returned to the art school as a part-time lecturer in the Drawing and Painting Department. Jimmy began to make a name for himself and, after his first solo exhibition at the Douglas and Foulis Gallery in Edinburgh in 1961, recognition followed with his election to the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1962 and his appointment as a full-time lecturer in Drawing and Painting in 1967 at Glasgow School of Art.

He was elected an associate of the Royal Scottish Academy in in 1974, becoming a full member in 1989. The Royal Glasgow Institute elected him as a member in 1980. At the same time, he staged numerous exhibitions, and his paintings were eagerly sought-after.

By developing an understanding of the sensuous appeal of rich pigment and colour bequeathed by the Scottish Colourists prior to the Second World War and by the painters of the Edinburgh School afterwards, Jimmy evolved his distinctive style. He favoured a directness of expression, and never used preparatory drawings or kept sketch books, seeking instead a spontaneous reaction. “ Every painting is a struggle. I persevere until I think I have won.”

Jimmy was an influential teacher, being a member of staff for 40 years. With his passionate belief in painting and through the example of his own work, he set exemplary standards. Once the director reported a student complaint that he had spent too much time working in his studio. “That’s the best compliment I’ve ever had,” said Jimmy.

He was outspoken, irreverent and politically incorrect, but when it came to analysing what had gone wrong in a painting and suggesting the best means of addressing the problem, he was without peer.

Glasgow Art Club was one of his favourite haunts and he was proud to have been elected its president. Usually to be found perched on the arm of “his seat” next to the fireplace, a born raconteur, he would hold court, glass in hand.

His one serious indulgence was for fast cars. In order to acquire one such object of desire, he was persuaded to part with the beautiful Charles Rennie Mackintosh flower drawing he had been given as a gift. This was in the mid-1960s, before the Mackintosh revival and he received the princely sum of £400 for the drawing.

After a short-lived first marriage, he was to find happiness when he married Ursula Crawford and gained satisfaction from becoming step-father to her children, Katie, Dougald and Iain. Sadly, Ursula died at the beginning of 2009.

Retiring from the art school in 1999, he went from strength to strength, producing some of his finest paintings. A retrospective in 2000 assembled more than 100 of his paintings. The studios of the Mackintosh Building were set ablaze by Jimmy’s pictures.

Jimmy Robertson’s contribution to Scottish painting will remain as a permanent legacy.


Born November 2, 1931;

Died January 7, 2010.