William Baillie PPRSA 1923-2011
Elected ARSA: 20 March 1968
Elected RSA: 14 February 1979
William James Laidlaw Baillie CBE PRSA PPRSW, artist, teacher and art administrator. Born: 1923, in Edinburgh. Died: 21 May, 2011. You warmed to William “Bill” Baillie as soon as you met him. He had a jovial, agreeable disposition and a way of putting you at ease no matter who you were, especially so if the formal atmosphere was intimidating. I have an abiding image of him wearing his imperial purple presidential robes fronting functions of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) as its president.
Only the unwary dared take advantage of his conviviality by trying to remove something he thought beneficial to the common good of the artists his office represented. He was vigorous when protecting their livelihood.
Bill was one of my tutors at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). His advice was more often practical than not, of the welcome kind one could use when working on my own art, or with students, as I did later when a lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art.
His work was quite minimal, often lyrical and abstract, against the fashion of the times, which might account for the public’s inertia in accepting it immediately.
Then again, he devoted so much time to the welfare and advancement of other artists, particularly new talent, it can be argued he didn’t consign enough time to the promotion of his own art, though works reached as far as Greece and Canada. To view it now is to see vivid colours that impressed from his time spent in India and Nepal in the army, later travelling solo in Bombay (now Mumbai) and Kashmir. I have a vivid recall of his striking Flowers, Banner and Streamer, and his Remembering Tigers; works that ought to be popularised in print form for us all.
Bill presided over the Royal Scottish Academy at a particularly pivotal moment in its history. Conceptualists and installation art became the fashion. Bill defended the place of the artist who could draw first and experiment later, protecting the RSA as a safe haven for their work, keeping the Scottish art-going public focused on gifted ability rather than shallow facility.One of his greatest accomplishments was to found and nurture the Friends of the RSA, a support group which flourishes to this day.
His service to the RSA, like that to the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour, was uncomplaining and generous. His gracious wife, Helen, was always there to keep his enthusiasm in check, and to give him strength in his final illness.
Above all I’ll remember him for his quick wit; his ability as a mimic, and his unsung accomplishments: in his teens he founded a dance band called the Cherokees (he played piano accordion); he taught in Edinburgh schools in the 1950s and he was a member of the Royal Core of Signals during the Second World War, intercepting Japanese codes for army intelligence.
Above all, I value our lifelong friendship, evidence of the high respect with which the ECA, our mutual alma mater, was once held. He leaves his son, Jonathan, and two daughters, Wendy and Lucy, as well as his wife, Helen, and a good number of creative people who shall miss him dearly.
RSA Obituary transcribed from the RSA Annual Exhibition 2012 catalogue