William Leiper RSA 1839-1916
Elected ARSA: 30 March 1892
Elected RSA: 12 February 1896
By the death of William Leiper, Architect, which took place at Helensburgh on May 27, the Academy has lost a Memberof great and versatile talent; for, even after his reputation was well established in Architecture, he studied Painting in Paris, and for a while it was doubtful in which department his ripening talent would ultimately express itself.
As an architect Leiper had the advantage of being trained under favourable guidance and influence, being apprenticed with Messrs. Boucher & Cousland of Glasgow, and afterwards serving in London under Mr. William White, F.S.A., and Mr. J. L. Pearson, R.A., both eminentgothic architects.
His conspicuous ability as an architect was manifest from the first. At an early age he gained the competition for Dowanhill Church, in the west end of Glasgow, and the building erected from his design is a singularly satisfactory
piece of work for a young man to do. This was followed at intervals by lesser churches at Brechin, Lanark, and Whiteinch, and bygreater ones at Camphill and Hyndlands, Glasgow, and St. James's, Kilmacolm, in various periods of gothic, but all full of interest, and showing a progressive development of artistic feeling and a ripening mastery of the subtleties of proportion and detail.
His special forte perhaps lay in domestic architecture, where his refined nature and playful faney found infinite variety of expression. His charm of style was conspicuously displayed in the treatment of the interior of his houses, a realm calling for even greater skill and inventiveness than the successful treatment of exteriors does.
These houses, some of them of considerable size and importance as mansion-houses, designed in various phases of old English and Scottish domestic architecture. are in no sense mere reproductions of older examples of architecture. They are entirely fresh and modern renderings, which, passed through the crucible of their designer’s own mind, emerged as new creations possessing the romantic spirit of the old, but stamped with such a distinctive
personal impress as to be recognised andreferred to as “ Leiperian.”
If his civil work was less important than his ecclesiastical and domestic work, that was only because fewer opportunities offered themselves in this field, for his Burgh Halls at Dumbarton and Partick, both early works, and his “Sun Insurance Office” in Glasgow, a late work, show an equal freshness of inspiration, with the largeness of conception and interesting detail which characterises all his work.
The latter building was represented in the Paris Exhibition of 1900, and awarded a silver medal. But perhaps the most remarkable ofhis civil works is the carpet factory erected for Messrs. Templeton in the east end of Glasgow, a noble example of the use of coloured material in the external design and construction of an industrial building unrivalled in this country, if indeed it has been equalled anywhere in modern times.
This fine colour-sense Leiper always possessed, and the polychromatic decoration of the interior of his first church at Dowanhill remains to this day a tribute to his true appreciation of the qualities required in conventional
coloured decoration. This phase of his many-sided ability was recognised in his appointment to devise and direct the colour-decoration of the interior of the Banqueting Hall of Glasgow Municipal Buildings, the last work he undertook in a professional capacity.
From 1870 Mr. Leiper had contributed to the Annual Exhibitions in the sections both of Painting and Architecture, and in 1892, when the Academy first did justice to the profession, he was one of four architects elected to Associate rank. In 1896 he attained full membership.
For some years previous to 1914, when he went on the Honorary Retired List, Mr. Leiper’s indifferent health had prevented his attending the business or social meetings of the Academy, so that he was little known to many of the more recently-elected members; but to those who knew him in his earlier days, the announcement of his death recalled his interesting personality and his ardour in
everything pertaining to his own and the allied arts.
His little collection of pictures at Terpersie, which had been his home fornigh forty years, evidenced his life-long predilections for the painter’s craft. Two of these, a portrait of his mother, by M‘Taggart, and “ Une Patricienne,” by Couture, he has bequeathed to the Scottish National Gallery.
His kindly remembrance of the Academy has been noted in the foregoing Report. Mr. Leiper, who was a native of Glasgow, had reached his seventy-eighth year.
RSA Obituary, transcribed from the 1916 RSA Annual Report