Matilda’s Passion for Art Where it Matters, at Macrobert Centre Stirling

Matilda Hall with works by Eduardo Paolozzi and Alan Davie at the exhibition
Matilda Hall with works by Eduardo Paolozzi and Alan Davie at the exhibition. Image

A Passion for Art: Matilda Hall, Collector and Curator

10:00 - late

From: 8 Feb 2022

To: 28 May 2022

Macrobert Arts Centre
University of Stirling
Stirling & Stirlingshire

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In the heart of the University of Stirling’s beautiful loch-side campus, the Macrobert Arts Centre is marking its 50th anniversary with a special exhibition, postponed last year by the pandemic. A Passion for Art: Matilda Hall, Collector and Curator honours the former Assistant to the University of Stirling’s first Principal Tom Cottrell (a piece by his mother, Lily, is included). In procuring artworks for the University’s collection, the two of them founded a proud tradition of art curation, revered for its high-quality work by leading lights of the Scottish art firmament. 

Matilda Hall at the exhibition with 'Anne' by Willie Rodger, print
Matilda Hall at the exhibition with ‘Anne’ by Willie Rodger RSA, wood print. Image Ian Georgeson.

The display is very much about Matilda herself, her career, her milieu, and what appears to be an abiding motivation to bring art to people where they happen to be: on show there’s work on loan that she collected with her late husband Douglas Hall (who was the first Keeper at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), work from the charity Art in Healthcare that she founded, as well as work from the University’s collection, carefully chosen by Matilda to reflect its diversity of styles and artists. 

The collection was inaugurated in the 1960’s to populate the new University’s offices with pictures, but grew quickly when it was decided to provide large-scale works for the new Pathfoot building, by engaging Edinburgh arts éminence-grise Richard DeMarco. Matilda was central to establishing and developing the collection, which she hoped would engage students and staff, as they pass artworks on their way in, out, and through the buildings’ concourses and built environment.

Work by John Hoyland and Wilhelmina Barns Graham
Works by John Hoyland, Wilhelmina Barns Graham and Willie Rodger. Image Ian Georgeson.

This idea of engaging passers-by is echoed decades later in the exhibition’s setting – the paintings, printworks and explanatory material are either side of you as you pass from the Centre’s bar and café to the theatre auditorium (the Macrobert is a versatile and exemplary centre). My experience was, that in the low light of evening, though, the spotlighting is a little too close to illuminate the entire pictures evenly, and conversely there is a perceptible lack of light where there is no spotlighting – my one criticism of the display.

Therese Oulton, 'Smokescreen'
Therese Oulton, ‘Smokescreen’

The exhibition is inseparably about the setting itself: like the campus as a whole, the Centre and campus are a paragon of 1960’s modernism – airy, with its high ceilings and natural light, in dialogue with its sylvan setting, the central loch with its waterbirds and hills beyond, and, seemingly comprehensively maintained, the surrounding access, lately enjoying an extensive remodelling. Enjoyably clean lines.

George Donald, 'Night Dancer'
George Donald, ‘Night Dancer’

Though a smallish exhibition, its clear strength is the quality of the work on view by artists of undisputed reputation, among them Eduardo Paolozzi, Joan Eardley, Justin Hoyland, Alan Davie, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Margaret Mellis, much of it in keeping with the architectural spirit of the Pathfoot building, and reminding you of that esprit – now forever lost – of the forward-facing optimism of the late twentieth century.

Janka Malkowska, 'Our Cats' and Carline McNairn, 'Behind the Bush'
Janka Malkowska, ‘Our Cats’ and Carline McNairn, ‘Behind the Bush’
Margaret Mellis, 'Beer and Wine'
Margaret Mellis, ‘Beer and Wine’

In what seems a natural move, Matilda went on to help secure, in 1991, a grant from the English-based Paintings in Hospitals foundation, establishing the Scottish charity later known as Art in Healthcare, which has planted artworks in hospitals and care settings up and down the country, alleviating the clinical emptiness of hospital corridors. After passionately serving for decades, Matilda remains a prime exponent, wedded to the principle of art enhancing our everyday environment.

Matilda Hall with four works at the exhibition
Matilda Hall with four works at the exhibition. Image Ian Georgeson.

A small leaflet is available, containing extensive autobiographical notes by Matilda herself, in which we read she hopes the University, hospital authorities too, will continue to make a small portion of their building budgets available for the purchase of art – something that she and Tom Cottrell pushed for fifty years ago, leading to a now-priceless collection. It feels good knowing someone believes in placing art where you happen to be.

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