Sir Robin Philipson

The year 2016 marks the centenary of the birth of Sir Robin Philipson (1916-1992), one of Scotland’s most celebrated and distinguished artists. Between 1965 and 1996 the National Fund for Acquisitions supported the purchase of artworks by Philipson for eight Scottish collections. They range in date from 1958 to 1987 and include oil paintings, a gouache design for a poster for the Edinburgh International Festival and a design for a tapestry.

Born in Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria, Philipson moved to Scotland with his family in 1930 at the age of 14, settling in Gretna and becoming a pupil at Dumfries Academy. He went on to study at Edinburgh College of Art from 1936 to 1940. By the time he graduated Britain was at war and Philipson joined the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, seeing action in India and Burma. Philipson’s wartime experience had a profound influence on his art and two of the paintings acquired with NFA support explore this theme.

Fallen Soldier

Oil on canvas, Fallen Soldier, c1966, acquired by Paisley Museum in 1966 with a grant of £125 (NFA.2774). Picture credit: Paisley Museum, Renfrewshire Council. © The Artist’s Estate.

 

The Attack

Oil on canvas, The Attack, 1961, acquired by Fife Council in 1965 with a grant of £157.10s (NFA.1147). Picture credit: Fife Cultural Trust (Kirkcaldy Galleries) on behalf of Fife Council. © The Artist’s Estate.

In 1965 Philipson wrote to the curator of Kirkcaldy Art Gallery, William Hood, with a fascinating account of the inspiration behind The Attack. He described the execution as both difficult and exciting because he was ‘discovering the expressive possibilities of a new way of painting’. He went on to explain how he found inspiration in the tone and colour of photographs and how he contrasted the powerful image of the dead soldier in the foreground with the vignette in the upper right corner of the canvas which depicts ‘a battle scene as portrayed in the grand manner by a 19th century French painter’. Philipson’s message was essentially pacifist; the key to reading the painting lies in the contrast between these images. ‘I had hoped’, he wrote, ‘the observer would be able to read simultaneously the irreconcilability of the glorious vision and the terrible reality’. (Letter from Philipson to William Hood, dated 16 November 1965, Fife Cultural Trust Collection).

After the war Philipson returned to Edinburgh where he undertook a teacher training course at Moray House. He joined the staff of Edinburgh College of Art in 1947, first as a librarian then lecturer, eventually succeeding William Gillies (1898-1973) as Head of School of Drawing and Painting in 1960, a post he held until he retired in 1982. Philipson belonged to the Edinburgh School, a loose grouping of artists many of whom had studied and/or taught at Edinburgh College of Art. They included Gillies, John Maxwell (1905-1962) and Anne Redpath (1895-1965).

The earliest of the artworks acquired with NFA support was a design for a poster for the Edinburgh International Festival.

Design for a poster for the Edinburgh International Festival

Gouache on paper, Design for a Poster for the Edinburgh Festival, 1959, acquired by Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums in 1996 with an NFA grant of £1,100 (NFA.711). Picture credit: Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections. © The Artist’s Estate.

Although the composition, featuring the Scott Monument and a drummer, was used for Philipson’s poster for the 1958 Festival, he changed the date to 1959, perhaps suggesting that he considered reusing the design the following year. Certain themes emerged in Philipson’s work: war, cockfighting, church interiors, a series of paintings depicting the Crucifixion. An example of the latter, in the unusual medium of oil, tempera and gesso on canvas, was acquired by Dundee City Council with NFA support in 1980.

Crucifixion

Oil, tempera and gesso on canvas, Crucifixion, 1960/80, acquired by Dundee City Council in 1980 with a grant of £625 (NFA.3011). Picture credit: Dundee City Council (Dundee’s Art Galleries and Museums). © The Artist’s Estate.

Although Philipson originally painted Crucifixion in 1966, he worked on it again in 1980, changing the blue palette of the original by adding yellow sections to either side of the rose window and darkening the ground behind Christ to shades of grey and brown. Crucifixion was intended to be hung above eye level, forcing the viewer to look up at the tortured figure of Christ, emphasising the suffering conveyed in the splayed fingers, stretched arms and tormented face. The painting also conveys Philipson’s interest in ecclesiastical architecture which he explored in a series of church and cathedral interiors. These are often characterised by a bold use of colour and heavy impasto. The NFA supported the acquisition of an example from this series, Iconostasis, for the collection of Lillie Art Gallery.

Iconostasis

Oil on canvas, Iconostasis, c1973, acquired by East Dunbartonshire Council in 1974 with a grant of £450 (NFA.1714). Picture credit: Lillie Art Gallery, Milngavie, East Dunbartonshire Leisure & Culture Trust. © The Artist’s Estate

Titles occur and recur in Philipson’s work. The word ‘threnody’, which refers to a poem, song or speech of lamentation, is included in the titles of a number of paintings including Threnody Meeting which was acquired with NFA support by the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in 1970.

Threnody Meeting (detail)

Detail of oil on canvas, Threnody Meeting, acquired by the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in 1970 with an NFA grant of £190 (NFA.1391). Picture credit: The Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum. © The Artist’s Estate.

In spite of Philipson’s teaching commitments and his public roles – he was President of the Royal Scottish Academy from 1973 to 1983 and was knighted for service to the arts in Scotland in 1976 – he was a prolific artist who constantly explored the boundaries of his art, pushing himself to achieve better expression and greater technical mastery. He believed that to be an outstanding teacher it was essential to be a practising artist, fully engaged with his art.

In 1983, just after Philipson retired from Edinburgh College of Art and stepped down from his role as President of the Royal Scottish Academy, his role in Edinburgh’s artistic life was recognised by the acquisition of a painting for the city collection.

Zebra

Oil on canvas, Zebra, acquired by City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries in 1983 with a grant of £975 (NFA.4077). Picture credit: City Art Centre, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries. © The Artist’s Estate.

The painting marked a new departure in Philipson’s work, captured in a statement prepared for the Jean F Watson committee in support of the acquisition:

A new departure in the last year has been the artist’s interest in pictures within paintings. Zebra is the first in this series, uniting elements such as an animal painting with the accoutrements of a studio, allowing a combination of details which would otherwise be unusual. Levels of reality suddenly appear and coexist in the tradition of baroque painting.

The subject was inspired by a travelling scholarship which Philipson undertook to South Africa and Kenya in 1976. The zebra was to appear again in a tapestry woven by the Edinburgh Tapestry Company after a painting in Philipson’s Humankind series.

Humankind

Cotton warp and wool tapestry, Humankind, 1988, interpretation of an original design by Sir Robin Philipson, woven by the Edinburgh Tapestry Company. Acquired by Glasgow Museums in 1992 with a grant of £8,312 (NFA.3843). Picture credit: CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection. © Dovecot Tapestry Studio.

Philipson wrote of the title that it ‘needs to stir a train of thought by its sound as much as its sense. The name ‘Human Kind’ – all kind involving humankind – was proposed by George Bruce, hoping, as he says, that a word will take the viewer into the painting’s heart’ (Robin Philipson Retrospective, Edinburgh College of Art exhibition catalogue, 1989). The specific theme of this painting is apartheid, set within the landscape of South Africa and showing the love of a white boy for a black girl.

The tapestry was woven by master weavers of the Edinburgh Tapestry Company, David Cochrane, Shirley Gatt, Harry Wright and Johnny Wright. Professor James More, Managing Director of the Edinburgh Tapestry Company from 1987-1993, described the dynamic and creative relationship which grew between weavers and artist and it’s worth quoting in full for the insight it gives into this distinct creative process:

The quality of this wonderful tapestry arises from the robust and enthusiastic relationship that developed then, between the master weavers and Sir Robin, and their shared commitment to producing a vibrant work in tapestry that responded to the nature and the passion of the painting, the ideas it represented and the way in which they were portrayed. The tapestry took on a life of its own. It began and continued to develop through rich and detailed discussions between the artist and the weavers about the abounding, opulent diversity of colour, shape and texture; the psychology of seeing, sensitivity and understanding; the perceptions of cultural sensibilities; and the politics of art. Yarn and woven sample trials were produced and, while the original painting was available for a very short time, work progressed in relation to exceptionally good slides and Sir Robin’s frequent visits.

(From Elizabeth Cumming (ed), The Art of Modern Tapestry, Dovecot Studios Since 1912. London: Lund Humphries Ltd, 2012.)

The subject of the painting expresses the humanity evident in Philipson’s work throughout each phase of his long and successful career as both a teacher and artist. It is worth noting that Glasgow City Council chose this work from its collection to send to the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in July 2005 as an expression of support for the aims of the 31st summit which focused on debt relief and aid for Africa.

 

Dr Hazel Williamson
National Fund for Acquisitions Manager
National Museums Scotland

With thanks to Lady Diana Philipson for permission to reproduce the artworks.

The painting Fallen Soldier will be included in the exhibition Gesture – Expression in Modern Art at Paisley Museum, 16 July – 1 November 2016. http://www.renfrewshireleisure.com/paisleymuseum/

http://www.aagm.co.uk/

http://www.carnegiebirthplace.com/

http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/

http://www.edlc.co.uk/arts/lillie_art_gallery.aspx

https://www.onfife.com/

http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/Pages/home.aspx

http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/

 

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Archaeology and the NFA: A Beautiful Romance

Susie Dalton, former Archaeology student in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, wrote her MA dissertation on Treasure Trove in Scotland and the reporting of artefacts by metal detectorists. Here she writes on the role of the NFA in supporting museums to make acquisitions through the Treasure Trove process.

The National Fund for Acquisitions helps Scottish museums and galleries to acquire a wide range of items of cultural and historical significance. While archaeological artefacts take up a small proportion of the annual grant, they do account for a significant proportion of applications received; in 2013/14 35% of applications were for archaeological material although this accounted for only 9% of total spend. Many of the archaeological finds made in Scotland today by members of the public are made by metal detectorists due to a growth in popularity of the hobby since the 1980s.

Under Scottish law ownerless objects found by chance, or through activities such as metal detecting, field walking or archaeological excavation, become the property of the Crown and may be claimed as Treasure Trove.  While individuals have a legal responsibility to report their finds, the Treasure Trove Unit (TTU) works hard to promote awareness of the Treasure Trove system and advise which categories of object finders are required to report.  This has resulted in a 100% increase in reporting since 2011. Many of the items found and reported as Treasure Trove have the potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of Scotland’s past and the TTU works to ensure they can be enjoyed by the public and for research. If an item found by a member of the public is claimed, it is advertised to the museums sector. Individual museums may apply for the object to be allocated to their collection if it falls within the remit of their collecting policy. The recipient museum is asked to fund an ex gratia payment to the finder, usually based on the market value of the object.  The NFA can offer a grant of up to 50% of the award. This means that the NFA offers crucial help to small museums local to the findspot of the artefact; museums that could otherwise miss out on exciting acquisitions owing to insufficient funding to meet the ex gratia award. As Dunbeath Heritage Centre manager Meg Sinclair put it:

In the past anything valuable that was found usually ended up going to Edinburgh […]These coins being displayed at the museum is a real coup for us.

Medieval coins of Edward I of England and Alexander III of Scotland discovered in Caithness

Medieval coins of Edward I of England and Alexander III of Scotland discovered in Caithness

Meg was referring to a hoard of medieval coins found by a metal detectorist in the Highlands in 2013. The coins, which date back to the 13th century, are now on display in the Centre thanks to NFA funding half the £2,210 ex gratia award and they are expected to contribute to increased visitor numbers.

Two fragments of gold lunula found in Dumfries and Galloway

Two fragments of gold lunula found in Dumfries and Galloway

A similar story can be found at the opposite end of the country in Dumfries and Galloway where the NFA helped Stranraer Museum to acquire a  remarkable find in 2013 – an early Bronze Age gold lunula (a kind of flat, disc-like necklace), the first found in Scotland in over a century. Contributing a grant of £1,500, the NFA made it possible for a small museum to add this impressive piece to its collections.

The NFA provides a lifeline to small museums which want to display the archaeological finds made in their area. While the majority of finds don’t require a significant proportion of the NFA’s budget, they do make a  considerable difference to small museums and their local communities, especially when many are facing increasing budget cuts. By  helping museums across the country to acquire and celebrate these finds, the NFA is allowing Scotland’s heritage to be enjoyed by all.  As the number of archaeological finds made and reported in Scotland continues to increase as a result of the TTU’s outreach work, the NFA has an important part to play in ensuring they continue to be seen and enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Susie Dalton

Return of the Jam Sandwich

Rover SD1 Vitesse Grampian Police highway patrol car acquired by Grampian Transport Museum in 2015 with an NFA grant of £3,851.

In January 2015 Grampian Transport Museum was successful in its bid to repatriate a former Grampian Police highway patrol car to Aberdeenshire. The Rover SD1 (Special Developments 1) was produced between 1976 and 1986 as a large, high spec hatchback with supercar lines borrowed from the Ferrari Daytona. Rover used a further refinement of their (ex Buick) 3.5L V8 engine and new 5 speed gearbox with 3 speed auto as an alternative for the first cars. Smaller engine and diesel variants followed as a fuel crisis hit the V8’s running costs hard. The car was extremely well received, winning the coveted European Car of the Year award and other accolades. The Rover also established itself in motorsport and so credibility with motorists and performance car enthusiasts was assured.

The Rover Vitesse police car at the Grampian Transport Museum

The Rover Vitesse police car at the Grampian Transport Museum

Britain’s police forces tested the car and placed orders immediately. It was the ideal compromise; a big load space and ample performance for the period. The Metropolitan Police ordered hundreds of mostly 3 speed autos and stuck with them through to 1989. The SD1 is the best remembered original ‘Jam Sandwich’, a new breed of high visibility, high speed police traffic car. In Aberdeenshire, Grampian Police (now part of Police Scotland) purchased several SD1s and Ford Granadas to control speed and road traffic incidents. The drivers all had their favourites but the SD1’s engine and massive torque won many fans and all agreed the supercar looks were a great deterrent to speeding motorists.

The City of Aberdeen underwent huge change as the North Sea oil and gas industry boomed in the 1970s. The city had good sea, air and rail connections but the single carriageway A90 required a rapid upgrade. From 1983 onwards new sections of dual carriageway were planned and constructed, the first being from Aberdeen south to Portlethen. In 1985 the town of Stonehaven was bypassed by a much longer stretch of dual carriageway and the north east had its first section of fast road.

Policing this new road was a concern as new wealth had established a flourishing motor trade in high performance cars, led by John Clark Specialist Cars which offered the Audi 100 and Quattro and the BMW range. Grampian Police ordered another SD1, one of the later high performance fuel injected versions of the 3.5L V8 known in civilian trim as the Vitesse, to patrol the bypass and area around Stonehaven. This car used the 190bhp engine and 5 speed manual gearbox of the production Vitesse along with, unusually for a police car, power steering. All other luxury items were excluded from the build to make it lighter and easier to maintain. Police spec suspension gave a higher ride height to facilitate chasing over central reservations and curbs and stiffer handling. The word Vitesse (French for speed) was removed from the steering wheel and the rear badge panel simply bore the Rover name.

The police car at work

The police car at work

On 10 December 1985 C356YST took up its station on the Stonehaven bypass and went to work. Those who were enjoying the new road remember it well. It would suddenly appear right there in your mirrors and so would points on your licence or a three month ban. The car became something of a talking point among local car enthusiasts, one commenting ‘you can’t relax until you see it going the other way’. Grampian Police ran the car until 20 July 1988 after a hard life that included three back axles and several crashes. In the hands of a series of private owners the inevitable deterioration took place common to most cars from the period due to poor rust inhibition. In 2014 it was rescued in a partially restored condition by the Channel 4 television programme For the Love of Cars, professionally restored for the programme and acquired by Grampian Transport Museum at auction at the NEC, Birmingham on 10 January 2015.

The police car in a field, having left the road on 27 July 1987

The police car in a field, having left the road on 27 July 1987

The purchase was rapidly organised and involved a visit to the restoration workshop on 30 December to ensure that this was the actual car and the build was to museum standards. Grampian Transport Museum receives many donations dedicated to adding great exhibits to the collection. Funds had slowly grown to just over £6,000 and the National Fund for Acquisitions agreed to provide up to a further £4,000. An independent valuation of £10,000 proved accurate with the hammer dropping at £9,750.

The old charger is a perfect fit to the museum’s Collecting Policy. It tells a great local story and better still the police drivers are still there and are hugely enthusiastic about its survival and return. Ian Slorach, who drove the car nearly 30 years ago, was at the museum the day after its arrival to give it a test drive round Grampian Transport Museum’s road circuit, commenting ‘over a career in Traffic this was my favourite car, a real police car. I loved driving it.’ Ian has even offered to be its designated driver at future public engagements!

 

Mike Ward MBE
Curator
Grampian Transport Museum

 

 

 

 

A particularly sociable Sentinel

Sentinel steam waggon acquired by Grampian Transport Museum in 2000 with an NFA grant of £15,200. Mike Ward wrote about the acquisition of the Sentinel in a post published on 19 March. Now he’s back with an update on what has been a busy summer for this popular vehicle as it took part in events to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War.

Of all historic vehicles, steamers are most often credited with ‘being alive’. There is something about steam … it is almost a natural, living source of power and if that’s true perhaps steam vehicles are the most likely to have personalities.

Fifteen years ago the NFA helped Grampian Transport Museum purchase V 3507, a 1914 Sentinel steam waggon (Sentinel’s spelling!) It turned out to be the sole surviving complete and working Glasgow-built example, new to Alexander Runcie, a Carrier from Inverurie close by the museum.

Copyright of Grampian Transport Museum

The Sentinel steam waggon out on the road

We coaxed the old steamer back into safe working condition and decided to treat it as a working exhibit. After some careful thought it was agreed that with safe mounting steps and temporary seating it could give passenger rides on special occasions. This was a great success from the outset, although some among us thought it a little irregular to give rides on the back of a lorry.

Imagine our surprise, therefore, to discover as our researches continued, photographs of V 3507 giving rides to large groups of school children during the First World War. This old steamer had done it all before and on a huge scale. During the war government took over the railways and all pleasure excursions were banned. This was particularly significant in the Aberdeen area as the town was a vitally important port and railhead for supporting the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. The Great North of Scotland Railway’s network was overloaded with traffic. As losses mounted on the Western Front, Sandy Runcie stepped in and began to organise outings for local children to lift the mood and boost failing morale. He did this throughout the war with picnic excursions to local beauty spots, even carrying up to 145 people to church on Sundays. After the war this unofficial home front war work was commented on in the press.

Rev John Cook with Sentinel crew on a tour of local war memorials, 3 August 2014

Rev John Cook with Sentinel crew on a tour of local war memorials, 3 August 2014

With the centenary of the start of the war on 3rd August 2014, V 3507 had its own commemoration. The waggon carried our local Minister and members of his congregation on a tour of the local war memorials where services of remembrance were held. All agreed that the old waggon was like a ‘living’ link to those dark days. It seemed like a natural thing for this particularly sociable Sentinel to do.

 

Mike Ward MBE
Curator
Grampian Transport Museum
www.gtm.org.uk

 

 

The Dissected Hayfield

Toy ‘Dissected Hayfield’ acquired by City of Edinburgh Council in 1975 with an NFA grant of £12.

Looking through a list of objects acquired by the Museum of Childhood with NFA support, I was intrigued to see one object described as a ‘Dissected Hayfield’ and wondered what it could be. I checked its location and found it was stored with Construction Toys, which piqued my interest even more. Early jigsaw puzzles were sometimes called dissected puzzles but we normally associate construction toys with Lego, Meccano, etc.

Wooden box containing the Dissected Hayfield

Wooden box containing the Dissected Hayfield

I found this simply made and decorated wooden box in the store and had a look inside. It contained a large number of painted tin figures and printed paper scenery, all on little stands so that you could set them up and arrange them as you wish. The printed illustrations on the paper, such as the haystack, were reminiscent of paper theatres and their scenery and, judging from the women’s dresses and soldier’s uniform, the toy was made around 1820-30, when toy theatres were also popular. This means the toy predated, or was contemporary with, the earliest dissected jigsaw puzzles which makes it a rare item marking an interesting development in children’s toys.

Figures raking hay by a haystack

Figures raking hay by a haystack

This toy would almost certainly have been made in Germany which began exporting toys in the late 18th century and was the leading manufacturer of mass produced toys, often cheaply made from tin and wood, until the First World War. By 1907 Germany was using so much tin in its toy manufacturing that it had to import from South Wales and elsewhere to satisfy demand.

Figures raking hay with scenery behind

Figures raking hay with scenery behind

Children’s toys often replicate what is in the world at a given time, reflecting technology, fashion, war, occupations, etc. In this toy you can see what a woman, a soldier and a farm worker would have worn at this period, and the tools the farm workers would have used. Even the shape of the haystacks can give us an idea of when the toy was made.

Scenery depicting a soldier in uniform

Scenery depicting a soldier in uniform

Was the toy instructional? Or purely intended for pleasure and passing leisure time? Either way it would not have been a toy for poorer children, who had to make do with homemade toys, but would have been intended for the nursery of a wealthy family with disposable income to spend on such luxuries. Many of the poorer children in rural areas would have worked alongside their families in real hayfields.

 

Lyn Wall
Curator
Museum of Childhood

http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk

 

 

 

 

Gone but not forgotten

Bronze miniature, Cambuslang 1914, 1922, by Alexander Proudfoot, acquired by South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture in 2014 with an NFA grant of £114.

A couple of months ago I found myself sitting at home browsing the online catalogue of a local auction house. A listing for a statue of a soldier jumped out at me. I have a deep interest in military history so went in for a closer look. The statue was a miniature of the figure that appears on the war memorial in the town of Cambuslang. I realised this would be an interesting object for the museum collection. The statue has further local significance given that the sculptor based the figure on the first man from Cambuslang to be killed in the First World War. John McAlpine was serving in the 1st Battalion, The Black Watch Regiment when he was killed on 11th November 1914. At the time of his death, John was 37 years old, married and father to six children. Private McAlpine has no known grave and is instead commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

Bronze miniature of fig on Cambuslang War Memorial 2

Bronze miniature of John McAlpine by Alexander Proudfoot

At work, we agreed this was definitely worth bidding for, assuming funds were available. The auction was taking place in less than a week, so we had to move fast. I contacted the NFA to see if an application could be turned around in time, and was given very useful help and encouragement. I submitted the application and was duly informed that the NFA was able to offer us match funding.

Cambuslang Cenotaph 4

Cambuslang War Memorial showing the full-size figure of John McAlpine. Image courtesy of the Friends of Low Parks Museum Society

The day of the auction finally came. We had decided to bid by telephone and I remember standing in my garden waiting on the call, terrified that my mobile signal would fail and we’d miss our chance. Thankfully our bid was successful and we received the statue in time to display as our ‘Object of the Month’ for November. Tuesday 11th November, Remembrance Day, marks the 100th anniversary of John McAlpine’s death – with his memorial figure on display in Low Parks Museum in Hamilton, we will ensure that he and all his fallen comrades are remembered.

 

Barrie Duncan
Assistant Museums Officer
South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture Ltd

www.slleisureandculture.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the Inventor of the Saxophone

Double set of saxophones, c1856-68, by Adolphe Sax, acquired by the University of Edinburgh Collection of Historic Musical Instruments in 2004 with an NFA grant of £29,000.

Soprano saxophone in B-flat, c1859

Soprano saxophone in B-flat, c1859. Photograph by Dominic Ibbotson reproduced by permission of the University of Edinburgh

Though the saxophone is instantly recognisable as a symbol of jazz and swing, its prolific creator Adolphe Sax could not have imagined such 20th-century music when he invented the instrument in the late 1830s. The bicentenary of Sax’s birth on 6 November 1814 at Dinant, Belgium, is being widely celebrated this year. He experimented with saxophone while working in his father’s musical instrument factory in Brussels; in 1842 he set up his own business in Paris where the work of developing and manufacturing the saxophone took place.

Alto saxophone in E-flat, c1856

Alto saxophone in E-flat, c1856. Photograph by Dominic Ibbotson reproduced by permission of the University of Edinburgh

Of all Sax’s inventions, the saxophone was the most revolutionary and has been the most successful. The saxophone is the most important musical instrument to originate in a well-documented invention by a single innovator. The family of saxophones of different sizes was intended to provide a robust voice for military bands and they were used in wind bands, mainly in France but also in Britain and the USA. Emerging jazz and popular dance bands found the saxophone’s power and flexibility ideal.

Baritone saxophone in E-flat, c1860

Baritone saxophone in E-flat, c1860. Photograph by Dominic Ibbotson reproduced by permission of the University of Edinburgh

In 2004 the University of Edinburgh, supported by the National Fund for Acquisitions, the Pilgrim Trust, the Russell Trust and the Hope Scott Trust, purchased eight saxophones made in Sax’s workshop. Four of these, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, were made between 1856 and 1860 and represent Sax’s early design; the other four, in the same sizes and made between 1862 and 1868, show how Sax subtly modified the proportions around 1861. The two quartets can be seen side-by-side in the Reid Concert Hall Museum of Instruments, Bristo Square, Edinburgh.

Prof Arnold Myers
Curator Emeritus
Musical Instrument Museums Edinburgh

http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/information-services/services/library-museum-gallery/museums-and-galleries/musical-instrument-museums/mime