Born: April 16, 1921;

Died: June 14, 2020

THOMAS Shanks, who has died aged 99, was a highly regarded Scottish painter, best known for his dramatic and passionate watercolours of the Highlands. From his early days at the Glasgow School of Art to his exhibitions in galleries across the UK, the focus of his work was always his great love of Scottish landscapes.

His love affair with the Western Highlands began when his father took him, when very young, to the Royal Glasgow Institute Exhibition, where he saw paintings of magnificent Highland scenery. “I went right into these pictures”, he told the Herald in 1994. “Wonderful landscapes we could never reach. No car. Then, aged seven, came holidays to Skye. The train journey there passing Glen Falloch, Rannoch, Morar – exciting names so familiar now but not then. They were magic.’’

His career as a painter was an extremely long one: he began painting long before the Second World War but was still painting until March this year and he had his last one-man show at the Tighnabruaich gallery in 2019. His work also found prestigious homes – the Duke of Edinburgh is among those who own his paintings and his work also hangs in the House of Lords.

However, Tom’s route into the world was not a straightforward one. Born the younger son of Thomas and Annie Shanks in Dennistoun, Glasgow, in 1921, his father died suddenly when Tom was very young and he was brought up by his mother and two sisters. He left school to work as an office boy at the Templeton’s carpet factory on Glasgow Green, but his love of art was always there and he worked his way up to join the design department.

He was at Templeton’s Carpets at an important time for the company. The world-famous firm was at its peak and, as part of the design team, he worked on the carpets that were fitted on Cunard’s luxury liner, the Queen Mary. It was a time he always remembered with affection.

Away from work, he continued to draw and paint as a hobby, but when the Second World War broke out, his life changed dramatically. Tom had always been brought up to believe that war and conflict was wrong – his family had been active in the peace movement – and he registered as a conscientious objector and went to work for the Forestry Commission at Benmore, near Dunoon. It was not an easy time for him, but one of his skills was to find the positives in any situation. It got him through.

After the end of the war, things then started to change. Some of Tom’s paintings were spotted by the director of Glasgow School of Art, who encouraged him to apply to the school and, once there as a full-time student, he flourished. His talent and the high quality of his work also won him a postgraduate scholarship to travel Europe for three months and paint and draw as he went.

On his return to Scotland, Tom worked as a scenic artist for the Rutherglen Repertory Theatre before training as an art teacher. The job meant he had plenty of time to paint, but he was also an excellent mentor and role model and taught many of his pupils to appreciate art; some of them went on to become professional artists. Tom continued to teach up until his retirement in the 1980s.

Away from his time in school, Tom was also developing a considerable reputation for his painting, which was mostly in watercolour and mostly inspired by the landscape he had loved since he was a child. He exhibited many times across the UK and regularly showed at Cyril Gerber Fine Art in Glasgow and at Edinburgh’s Torrance Gallery.

He was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour in 1960, the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts in 1983, and the Paisley Art Institute in 1996.

Despite his success and recognition, Tom was always uncomfortable being the centre of attention and whenever his work was exhibited, he would stay in the background and let his wife, June, work the room. He believed the painting should speak for itself and was modest about his achievements. When faced with one of his paintings, he would sometimes say “it’s not a very good one”.

He had met June when they had been students together at Glasgow School of Art and they were together for 65 years until her death in 2018. For many years, they lived in an unconventional but convivial arrangement sharing a house with their artist friends Bill and Cynthia Birnie. The house in Kilbarchan was split into two but some areas were divided by just a curtain. It led to great games between the children of both families and lifelong friendships were formed.

Tom never stopped painting and drawing while he was working as a teacher or in retirement, and he loved nothing more than to drop June off for a walk and park up somewhere to sketch. His house was also filled with little doodles and sketches and humorous notes left on bits of paper.

However, his abiding passion remained the Scottish landscape which was awakened on those childhood trips from Glasgow to Skye and was still with him right up to his last days as a working artist. He will be remembered as a landscape painter of great authenticity.

Tom Shanks is survived by his two daughters Judy and Wendy, two granddaughters, Gillian and Kirsty, and three great grandchildren, Isla, Lewis and Iona.