William Birnie Biography

William Birnie RSW, RGI, PAI (1929-2006)

Artist and teacher Born: 18 March, 1929, in Bathgate. Died: 3 September, 2006, nr Kilbarchan, aged 77.

THE death of William Birnie marks the end of a distinguished career in art and education. A talented student himself, he had the rare experience of having his work purchased by his tutors. William Birnie studied at Glasgow School of Art under Gilbert Spencer and then at Hospitalfield Art College under Ian Fleming. After graduating, he joined the staff at Hyndland Secondary School in 1952. That same year he was also elected a member of the Society of Scottish Artists (SSA). In 1958, he became a founder member of the Glasgow Group and formed the Glasgow Group Society, of which he was vice-president for 32 years. In 1965, he was elected a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW), a society of which he also became vice-president and treasurer. He became principal art teacher at Douglas Academy, near Bearsden, and later at Gryffe High, near Kilbarchan. William’s abilities not only as a teacher but also as an administrator were noticed by the Department of Education and he was soon appointed head examiner in art for Scotland. I recall on one occasion tiptoeing guiltily, with other senior examiners, past Bill, as we returned after an extended lunch hour. William’s arched eyebrow was enough to ensure that we were in time in future. He still managed to maintain an active exhibiting schedule, and showed in all the main public galleries and many of Scotland’s best commercial galleries. His work was enthusiastically collected and increasingly sought after. He was elected a member of the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Art (RGI) and of the Paisley Art Institute (PAI). In the early years he painted from his garden, showing the village of Kilbarchan in its changing seasons, under a quiet blanket of winter snow, or framed in a blazing sunset through autumnal trees. In all his work, one sees the hand of a man, the agricultural fields of Balfron, the village spires, the farms and harbours of Fife. Later visits to France and Italy with his artist wife, Cynthia Wall, whom he married in 1953, brought new subject matter, caf scenes, vine groves, Italian cliff top villages, and the crumbling facades of palaces and churches of Venice. He was a lover of Italian culture, its wine, its food, and especially its opera. When working in his studio the background was generally filled with the sound of an early Schipa or De Stefano.

Obituary from The Scotsman