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Hutchison, Sir William Oliphant, 1889-1970, Knight, portrait and landscape painter

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Sir William Oliphant Hutchison was born in Kirkcaldy 2 July 1889, and was educated at Kirkcaldy High School, Cargilfield, and later at Rugby School. He entered Edinburgh College of Art in 1909 where he studied until 1912, leaving to form the Edinburgh Group with Eric Robertson, A.R. Sturrock, G. Spence Smith, and D.M. Sutherland (later Principal of Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen). He studied in Paris, and worked primarily as a portrait painter although he also exhibited landscape and figure paintings. Hutchison served in the Royal Garrison Artillery during the First World War, in Malta and in France, where he was severely wounded. Shortly after his demobilization, late in 1918, he and his wife took a studio flat in York Place in Edinburgh. They remained there only until 1921, when they moved to London. Hutchison practised as a portrait painter and had some measure of success. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, joined the Savage Club, and had a wide circle of friends, mainly connected with the arts.

He was appointed Director of Glasgow School of Art in 1933 and guided the School through the pre-war years, overseeing connections between the School and the Empire Exhibition of 1938 and the first four years of World War II. Although he had had no teaching experience, he made an excellent director. He painted very much in the academic tradition but was always ready to help and encourage students and young artists who aspired to the avant-garde. He maintained a keen interest in all staff and students, and those serving in the armed forces were sent cards and presents from the School. Hutchison was a member of the Glasgow Art Club, the Royal Scottish Academy, the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

He retired from Glasgow School of Art in 1943 to continue with portrait painting in Edinburgh and London. In 1964 he held an exhibition of his work in London. Hutchison was a retiring and modest man but he had a good speaking voice and was in demand as a public speaker. He was also a great raconteur and his reminiscences of his early days in London were a never failing source of pleasure and amusement to his family and friends. He died suddenly at his home in London in February 1970.


Hutchison married Margery Walton in 1918, the youngest daughter of E.A. Walton, the Scottish Colourist. They had two sons, Henry Peter, born 1919, and Robert Edward, born 1922, and one daughter, born 1935. E.A. Walton was an important influence on Hutchison's early work.

Hutchison was the fifth child in the family of four sons and two daughters of Henry William Hutchison, of Kinloch, a Kirkcaldy business man, and his wife, Sarah Hannah Key.

In London Hutchison was a near neighbours of James F. Pryde, another Scottish artist who had long been settled in London, and he two artists became close friends.

Other Significant Information

He painted many distinguished people, including the Queen, Prince Philip, and the Queen Mother. His full-length portrait of the Queen in Thistle robes, painted for the Edinburgh Merchant Company in 1956, is probably one of his finest works. Amongst his other portraits can be mentioned J. Ramsay MacDonald (now in the House of Commons), Dorothy L. Sayers (in the National Portrait Gallery, London), Sir James Gunn (his diploma picture in the Royal Scottish Academy, which is perhaps his finest male portrait), and Sir Sydney A. Smith, for which he received a gold medal in the Paris Salon of 1961.

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1933-1943: Director of Glasgow School of Art

1937-1943: Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy

1941-1943: President of the Glasgow Art Club

1943-1970: Academician of the Rotal Scottish Academy

1948: Member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters

1950-1959: President of the Scottish Royal Academy

1953: Knighthood

1965: President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters


List of sources for the biographical information:

Harrison, B. (ed.), Dictionary of National Biography, ( University Press, 1995)

Rules or Conventions

Authority record created according to the National Council on ArchivesRules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names (NCA Rules)1997 and International Council on Archives: Ad Hoc Committee on Descriptive StandardsInternational Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (ISAAR)CPF1995.

Author and Date of Biographical History

Personal name authority record compiled for the GASHE project by John O'Brien, Glasgow University Archive Services, 25 July 2002