self portrait (1918)

Norah Neilson Gray

16 June 1882 – 27 May 1931


Norah Neilson Gray was a British artist of the Glasgow School. She was a member of The Glasgow Girls whose paintings were exhibited in Kirkcudbright in July and August 2010.

Gray was born at Carisbrook on West King Street in Helensburgh in 1882 to George Gray, a Glasgow ship owner, and his wife, Norah Neilson. She was first privately taught by two local art teachers. Gray and her family then moved to Glasgow in 1901 so she could attend the Glasgow School of Art until 1906. She trained under the Belgian Jean Delville and Fra. Newberry. She taught fashion-plate drawing at the school from 1906.

Gray also taught at St. Columba's in Kilmacolm which at the time was a girl's school. Miss Gray was said to have been nicknamed "Purple Patch", because of her insistence that colours could be seen in shadows if you looked correctly.

Gray was exhibiting by 1910 and had her own studio where she painted portraits. During the first world war Gray volunteered as a nurse and was sent to France where she found time to paint and sketch. When the war was over she returned to her work as a portraitist, most commonly painting young women and children.

A painting Hôpital Auxilaire 1918 from that time was offered to the Imperial War Museum but the budget was exhausted. The painting shows the vaulted thirteenth century Royaumont Abbaye, near Paris, where women had organised a hospital to treat the casualties of the war. The hospital was staffed by Scottish Women's Hospitals, under the direction of the French Red Cross.

In 1920, Gray painted for the Imperial War Museum, but Hôpital Auxilaire 1918 had to wait for the 1978 bequest of her sister, Tina, who left it to Helensburgh on the condition that a permanent place be found to exhibit it. The painting now hangs in the town's library.

In 1921 and 1923 she was given a medal for her painting, The Belgian in Exile which she had completed in 1915. That picture shows a Belgian refugee from Liege who had fled to Scotland after his country was invaded. Gray was chosen to be the first woman to join the influential hanging committee of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts.

Gray died in Glasgow at the age of 48 on 27 May 1931 of cancer.

Gray's paintings are in several national collections. From June to August 2010 there was an exhibition of the Glasgow Girls who together with the boys made up the Glasgow School. Gray's paintings were included in the exhibition in Kirkcudbright Town Hall. The painting Little Brother is held at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

To make your own nomination download the nomination form here