D.S. MacColl: Painter, poet, art critic
"A tour de force in research and an invaluable tool to museum studies." Dr Angela Summerfield, formerly Curator of Painting and Sculpture, Royal Academy of Arts
Harpenden: Lennard Publishing, 1995
ISBN 1 85291 121 2
358 pages. 23 B&W illustrations.
Dugald Sutherland MacColl was born in Glasgow in 1859. A highly gifted scholar, he studied at University College London and Lincoln College Oxford.
MacColl was a painter of exquisite watercolours. Apart from this passion, he never had a vocation; it was usually poverty which drove him away from his beloved painting and made him seek paid employment.
In 1890 he was appointed art critic on the Spectator; he moved to the Saturday Review in 1898. Readers were soon aware of the power of his 'fearless and fertile pen', and for fifty-eight years his articles entertained, informed, and provoked controversy.
MacColl was the first critic to extol the French Impressionists, but he was no less angered by the neglect of Steer, Tonks and Rothenstein than by the lack of recognition of Degas, Renoir and Manet.
"Steer", he wrote, "is the greatest colourist and most absolutely born-painter the English school now possesses... we have no-one like this who sees necessarily in colour and paint, in whose brain the sunshine breeds pictures coloured by its own uninventable harmonies."
Owners and potential benefactors respected his combination of artistic taste, professional knowledge, and personal passion. His understanding of institutional processes and structures was natural and deep; this was an important strength when he was dealing with the Treasury and other large and / or moribund organisations.
In 1900 he led a successful campaign to acquire the first Rodin sculpture for the British national collections. The National Art Collections Fund was established in 1903, again as a result of MacColl's campaigning. A few years later he led a campaign against the Royal Academy's maladministration of the Chantrey Bequest.
In 1906 MacColl became Keeper of the National Gallery of British Art (the Tate); after leaving this post in 1911 he became Curator of the Wallace Collection (where, to the consternation of the Trustees, he immediately rehung the Collection and rewrote the official Catalogue).
On retirement from the Wallace Collection he was appointed to the Royal Fine Arts Commission, campaigned lengthily (but unsuccessfully, for once) to save John Rennie's Waterloo Bridge from demolition, and started writing his autobiography, which he was working on when he died in 1948.
MacColl was born a critic but could, when the occasion arose, pay a handsome compliment. He had a natural charm and a generous spirit; he was a passionate advocate of justice and a deeply moral man, who nevertheless considered the sins of the flesh to be less important than the sin of bad taste.
D.S. MacColl is out of print. Second-hand copies may be available e.g. through AbeBooks or Amazon.