Born: September 27, 1941;

Died: January 22, 2021.

IT was 1993, and considerable interest was stirring in the world of Scottish art: the world-renowned David Hockney would, for the first time, be exhibiting his paintings in this country. The venue was the William Hardie Gallery at 141 West Regent Street, Glasgow.

In 1992 Hardie had begun accompanying his friend John Cox, Scottish Opera’s artistic director, to Los Angeles to meet Hockney, Cox having engaged the artist to design the sets and costumes for a Covent Garden production of Richard Strauss’s Die Frau Ohne Schatten.

Hardie and Hockney got to know each other well and the result was that Hockney agreed to let the gallery exhibit 22 of his latest paintings, which he had begun after finishing his set designs.

“We’ve had great shows in the past but never as exciting as this”, Hardie told the Glasgow Herald shortly before the opening. “Hanging this was just a great thrill. It’s a show I’ve dreamt of having for years, a show of world class. In that sense it’s a heavyweight show but the paintings are lyrical, joyful, and fun.’’ Hockney visited the gallery during the run, and some 10,000 people viewed the paintings.

William (Bill) Hardie, who has died aged 79, was an expert and highly influential figure in the Scottish art scene. He was Keeper of Art and then acting director of Dundee Art Gallery and Museum, before establishing the Pictures Department at Christie’s, a move that helped transform the international demand for Scottish art. As a gallery owner in Glasgow – the Washington Gallery, then, from 1990 onwards, the William Hardie Gallery – he did so much to promote Scottish artists.

William Hardie was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, in 1941, to Archibald William Hardie and Helen (Nell) Wightman Hardie (née Robertson). His father had served in the army and had returned home via Dunkirk before seeing service in Ceylon and India. The family lived in Dumbarton, Glasgow and (in a house formerly occupied by the newspaper cartoonist, Giles), Ipswich. Hardie contracted a form of bovine T.B. and spent an entire year convalescing, sacrificing his love of athletics. He had, however, by this time, discovered two abiding passions, for art and for jazz.

The family returned to Bearsden, Glasgow, in 1957, and he attended Glasgow Academy, where his contemporaries included the historian Norman Stone and Neil MacGregor, later director of the British Museum. Hardie received his Sixth-Form English prize from BBC founder Lord Reith.

Hardie’s dedication to art deepened in 1959 when, in Edinburgh, he had his first exposure to Picasso, Braque and Matisse. That summer, he also enjoyed an outdoor display by artists, Alasdair Gray among them, at Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. When he got home he told his family, “I know what art is”.

In his memoirs, Gallery: A Life in Scottish Art, he recalled, around this time, having a girlfriend named Hope, “who looked like Juliette Greco. “Not doing anything sensible like learning how to be musicians”, he wrote, “we were would-be existentialists whose favourite film was Alain Resnais’s L’année dernière à Marienbad. “We loved the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ernest Hemingway and Billie Holiday – and had no notion of what we wanted to do with ourselves”.

At 21 he spent nine months as an assistant English teacher at the Lycée Mistral in Avignon. He then studied French and German at Glasgow University, graduating at the age of 25. He was put in charge of selecting paintings by E.A. Hornel and others for a Scottish Arts Council exhibition on The Glasgow Boys, and helped transcribe the letters of Whistler in the university’s Fine Art department.

He also began researching a book, the focus of which gradually expanded from the Glasgow School to Scottish art ítself; it took a decade to complete and was published in 1976 as Scottish Painting 1837-1939.

In January 1968 he became the first-ever Keeper of Art with Dundee Corporation. In 1973 he oversaw the publication of the art gallery’s new catalogue, which had not been updated since 1926.

During his 10 years in Dundee he met and married Gillie, and they had two children, Andrew and Marion. Their Broughty Ferry home was visited one day by Peter Blake, not long after he had become famous for painting the Beatles’s Sergeant Pepper album cover.

Ever restless, however, Hardie wrote to Christie’s, and after a year’s wait he was given a job there. The post exposed him to much superb art. Eventually he was invited to start the auction house’s pictures department, in Glasgow.

He made two years’ worth of visits to Japan, tirelessly promoting the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and introducing 11 important Mackintosh works to several of the country’s major museums. “Owing to him, Japanese people enjoy Mackintosh’s works here in Japan”, says Taeko Seki, his agent in Japan.

Hardie began a new career, as a gallery owner, in 1984. The Washington Gallery’s first exhibition, Moroccan Studies in Pastel, by Alexander Graham Munro, was staged during the Edinburgh Festival and was a considerable success. The gallery was also a regular at arts fairs in the UK and overseas.

Hardie resolved to show not just established names from the past, such as Stanley Cursiter, but also newer artists such as Peter Howson, Adrian Wiszniewski and Steven Campbell. Howson’s major exhibition in 1986 was opened by Stanley Baxter.

In 1990 Hardie launched the William Hardie Gallery, in West Regent Street (he said of it that it had once been “a Pickwickian lawyer’s stationery office”). The inaugural show, by James Morrison, was opened by David Donaldson, the Queen’s Limner in Scotland, who declared that Hardie and his colleagues were the most intelligent art dealers in Scotland (“I am not sure whether he considered this an oxymoron”, Hardie would reflect).

The gallery enjoyed many successful exhibitions, by, amongst others. John Bellany and John Byrne. Gillie commissioned Byrne to paint her husband for his 50th birthday, in 1991; it was, Hardie later wrote, “the closest I have come to being psychoanalysed”.

A measure of Hardie’s peerless eye for paintings comes in an observation made in 1994 by this newspaper’s art critic, Clare Henry. During the last decade, she wrote, he had discovered many “wonderful” pictures, including a Reynolds now in the Stirling Smith, a Vuillard now in the National Gallery of Scotland, and a Wilkie now in the Paul Mellon collection in Washington.

The Hardie gallery was finally closed in 2008, by which time it was located in West Nile Street.

William Hardie is survived by his son, Andrew, and daughter, Marion, his wife having predeceased him in February 2020.