Cordelia Oliver Obituary

Cordelia Oliver was a great supporter of the SSA and of the Arts in Scotland. It was with great sadness that we heard of her death in 2009.

Cordelia Oliver
1923 – 2009

Cordelia Oliver, who died in December 2009, will be sorely missed by many who have benefited from the important and unique contribution she made to the cultural life of Scotland.

Born in Glasgow on 24th April 1923, she attended Hutcheson’s Grammar School where she won both the Art and English prizes. Rather than attending university, she opted to become a student at Glasgow School of Art. To the end of her art school days, she considered herself to be first and foremost an artist and more specifically a portrait painter in the traditional methods she had dutifully learned under Hugh Adam Crawford’s tutelage. In her final year there, she won the coveted Guthrie Portrait Prize.

She earned a living in Glasgow as a teacher at Craigholme School for Girls and as a Glasgow School of Art teacher of life drawing to evening class students.

In 1948, she married George Oliver and as a newly elected member of the Society of Scottish Artists, she had every intention of becoming a professional portrait painter. The couple moved to London and during this time her paintings were hung in The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

In 1950, they returned to Scotland and settled in Edinburgh. As a painter, designer and commercial artist, Cordelia gained commissions from Jenner’s and leading Scottish magazines. She was a regular exhibitor with the Society of Scottish Artists, The Royal Scottish Academy and The Royal Glasgow Institute.

In 1959, she and George returned to Glasgow where, until the mid-sixties, she continued to paint and develop her career as a commercial artist. She began writing, first of all for the Glasgow Herald, mainly as ‘Our Art Critic’ at a time when it was unthinkable for a woman to write outside a newspaper’s ‘Woman’s’ pages. She also wrote on interior design and architecture and soon found herself, though briefly, as ‘Our Special Correspondent in Scotland’ writing for The London Times and many other prestigious titles.

In 1975, she became a Founding Member of Glasgow’s Third Eye Gallery as well as ‘critic tutor’ in the summer theatre school of The O’Neill Centre in Waterford, Connecticut. In 1991, she wrote the essay which forms the core of the important hardback publication ‘The Society of Scottish Artists, The First 100 Years’.

Among my recent memories of Cordelia was when I organised an exhibition for her and her friend Margot Sandeman in Kirkcudbright’s Whitehouse Gallery together with Archie Sutter Watt whose Galloway landscapes they both admired. Cordelia sold a still life of flowers, painted not long after she left Glasgow School of Art. This sale raised her long-cherished hopes of ending her days as a painter.

Richard Demarco
Honorary President
February 2010