Ailsa Tanner MBE

Art Historian, Author, Painter and Glasgow Girls Authority

Ann Ailsa Louise Tanner was born on the 23rd June, 1923, in Kilmarnock, but her family soon moved to Shanghai, where her father, Dr Cecil Robertson, had accepted a post in public health with the Shanghai Municipal Council.

From her parents, Ailsa inherited a spirit of independence, a liking for travel and a leaning towards the arts. Her mother and father both painted - indeed her mother was the distinguished artist Eleanor Allen Robertson (née Moore). In later life Ailsa was to bring her parents work to a wider audience with her arrangement of an exhibition in the Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie and a well-illustrated booklet, My Parents, in 1997.

After returning from Shanghai, Ailsa went to school in Edinburgh and when the Second World War began she joined the Women’s Land Army, spending nearly three and a half years working on farms in the Tighnabruaich area.

At the end of the war, she was chose to enrol for a double degree from Edinburgh, attending both Edinburgh School of Art and the university. She emerged five years later with an MA in Fine Art and a DA from the art school. This fired her passion for art research and her carefully researched catalogues for the Centenary Exhibition of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists in 1982, followed by the West of Scotland Women Artists, remain essential sources of information for others. Thereafter, further investigation into one of the Glasgow Girls produced the definitive book on Bessie MacNicol - launched in Helensburgh in 1998 and described as "her life’s work". Ailsa was awarded an MBE in 1980.

She obtained a post in the fine art department at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Galleries, and it was there that she met Philip Tanner, whom she married in 1956. According to the employment rules of the time, as a married woman she had to leave her post. She left the museum to concentrate on her family - the couple had three children - John, Bridget and Nora - and her home in Helensburgh.

Ailsa did continue to research and paint and she was elected an honorary member of the Glasgow Society of Women Artists. She also was heavily involved with both the Helensburgh Arts Club and Helensburgh Orchestral Society.

Ailsa died on the 19th November 2001 in the Jeanie Deans Unit of Helensburgh's Victoria Infirmary.

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