Monday, 1 March 2010

Norah Neilson Gray (1882-1931)

Can I talk about Norah Neilson Gray this morning?
Will you indulge me?

Self Portrait

Norah was part of a remarkable generation of Scottish women artists
who were empowered by the Arts and Crafts movement
and the changes to society created by the First World War.
She grew up in Helensburgh, on the shore of the Clyde,
but her family moved to Glasgow when she was 19
which enabled her to study at the Glasgow School of Art.
The environment was dominated by male academics
but the Director, Francis Newbery, encouraged women
and many attended as part-time students,
supervised by a lady warden and housekeeper.

date unknown

Norah Neilson Gray became a fine portrait painter
with a strong sense of colour and composition
which originated in her early specialisation
in fashion-plate drawing which she taught
at the Glasgow School of Art from 1909.

Little Brother

During the war Norah worked as
a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse
at Royaumont Abbey, outide Paris.
Her war-time paintings powerfully convey
the bleak courage of the people that she met.

The Belgian Refugee

Norah was the first woman to be appointed
to the prestigious hanging committee
of the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts in 1921
and is included in the Glasgow Girls,
a group of female designers and artists
working in conjunction with the influential Glasgow Four:
the painter and glass artist Margaret MacDonald,
her husband, the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh,
Frances MacDonald and Herbert MacNair.

Four Sisters

My interest was sparked by this painting.
It seems to me that she paints from the heart
and the inspiration is the memory of her childhood
in the large garden at Helensburgh.
The luminous colours, the arc of birds
and the way the children fade into the backgound
has added poignancy when you realise that
she died at the tragically early age of 48.


all images courtesy of WikiCommons.
If any reader knows the correct orientation
of the self portrait
I would be most grateful.
Half of the sources face to the right
and the other half to the left


  1. What a wonderful woman and artist. I am ashamed to say I did not know of her. Very accomlpished. I am so pleased the females of their age had the resolve to push their way into the male dominated domain....if they hadn't where would we be today..... (even further behind )

  2. Stunning images. I think a quiet nod to a masterful painter is in how they paint the draping of clothing. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Thank you. You've introduced me to someone I didn't know. Such beautiful portraits.

  4. I love the last picture with the sisters and the birds - have always been a huge CRM fan - lovely to be introduced to one of his peers - thank you for sharing

    ps did you manage to undo the knot and start stitching?

  5. Thnk you, I've known the Belgian Refugee painting for a long time, but never knew anything about the painter. The other paintings are wonderful too.

  6. Another "thank you" from here: I too hadn't seen the work of this very talented artist. I think the self portrait is particularly stunning.

  7. Well ... thank you even from here!
    Beautiful. Where else could I learn such things but here.

  8. Perhaps I am being fanciful but I feel there is an ethereal feel to them but at the same time a strong core. Perhaps indicative of the women of that generation?

  9. Thank you for sharing these beautiful and moving paintings. The artist really had a wonderful gift for capturing emotion. Truely stunning. I will definitely be finding out more about this remarkable lady.

  10. We visited a delightful exhibition in Kirkcudbright on Saturday called Glasgow Girls, which featured a number of exhibits by Norah Neilson Gray, together other female painters of the early 20th Century. Although that exhibition closes today,it will open in Glasgow from Nov to Dec 2010 at the Mackintosh Museum.

  11. That was wonderful. I especially like Little Brother


Thank you! I love reading your comments and even though I don't always have time to reply I am really grateful to every one who joins in the conversation.