Baxandall, David Kighley

Full Name: 
Baxandall, David Kighley
Date Born: 
1905
Date Died: 
1992
Place Born: 
London, England, UK
Place Died: 
Hereford, Herefordshire, UK
Home Country: 
UK
Gender: 
male
Overview: 

Director of the National Gallery of Scotland, 1952-1970. Baxandall's father was the scientific historian David Baxandall (1874-1938). The younger David Baxandall joined the National Museum of Wales in 1929 as an assistant keeper (curator). The National Museum was a modest institution where Baxandall had difficulties convincing the Trustees to accept even a watercolor by the Welsh artist David Jones. In Cardiff he met and married Isobel Thomas, daughter of a Welsh rectory, in 1931. He advanced to Keeper in 1939. He resigned from the Cardiff institution in 1941, at the age of 36, to join the RAF in World War II, working on aerial reconnaissance photographs and the penetration of camouflage. After the War, Baxandall was appointed director of Manchester City Art Galleries in 1945. Manchester was provincial: dreary buildings full of mostly 19th-century art and committees known for overruling the professionals they employed. Baxandall added some modern pieces to the collection, including works by his friend, Ben Nicholson. His friends during this time included Herbert Read, and the art patron Helen Sutherland (1881-1964). Yet Manchester was overall frustrating for him. When Ellis K. Waterhouse resigned as director of the National Galleries of Scotland, Baxandall succeeded him in 1952. Waterhouse had been unwilling to move the Gallery into truly modern art. The Edinburgh Trustees admired Baxandall's accomplishments in Manchester. Together with Colin Thompson, Baxandall extended the scope of the Galleries, which already included the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, to an addition of a gallery of modern art, under Douglas Hall. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art opened in 1960 in a small Georgian mansion, Inverleith House. Modern English artists, such as Henry Moore, Paul Nash were acquired, but the Gallery's modest finances could not compete with the emerging art market. Baxandall's acquisitions included Velasquez's Woman Frying Eggs (1618) and was instrumental in the retention of the Sutherland loan and the Maitland Gift. The new Gallery's mission to feature emerging Scottish artists, together with Baxandall's distaste for expressionism, again limited collection development. The Elizabeth Watt bequest to the Gallery of Modern Art, which came to the Gallery long after his retirement, was cultivated during his tenure. In 1962 Baxandall published a book on his friend, Ben Nicholson: an Account of his Work. He retired in 1970. His hobby, photography, resulted in an excellent record of the Romanesque sculptures of Herefordshire churches. He died at age 87. His son was the distinguished art historian Michael Baxandall.

Selected Bibliography: 
From Ce´zanne to Picasso: the Moltzau Collection. London: Tate Gallery, 1958; The Maitland Gift and Related Pictures [at the] National Gallery of Scotland. Edinburgh: National Gallery of Scotland, 1963; Raeburn Bi-centenary Exhibition: National Gallery of Scotland. Edinburgh: National Gallery of Scotland, 1956; Ben Nicholson. London: Methuen, 1962; "A Dated Velazquez Bodegon." Burlington Magazine 99, no. 650 (May, 1957): 156-157 &159
Sources: 
[obituaries:] Hall, Douglas. "Fine Judgment of a Modern Master: David Baxandall." The Guardian (London), November 11, 1992, p. 13; Skinner, Basil. "David Baxandall." The Independent (London), October 28, 1992, p. 13.