Norah Neilson Gray

Glasgow Girl & Portrait Artist

Norah Neilson Gray was born on the 16th June 1882 at Carisbrook in West King Street to George William Gray, a Glasgow shipowner and wife Norah Neilsen, the second youngest of seven children. The large family garden stimulated Norah's early love of flowers and colour. Another early influence for Norah was a the Gray's Nanny who told the girls wonderful stories of fairies and celtic legends. The effect of these stories can be clearly be seen in Norah's later works.

Norah began her artistic career at “The Studio”, a private drawing establishment at Craigendoran with her teachers Miss Park and Miss Ross.

Norah moved to Glasgow with her family around 1901. She studied at Glasgow School of Art under Fra. Newberry and the Belgian Symbolist painter, Jean Delville. Norah joined the staff herself after completing training and later taught design and drawing at the School. Norah also taught at St Columba's School for Girls in Kilmacolm, where she was known as 'Purple Patch' because Norah was always asking her pupils to look for colour in the shadows.

By 1910 she had a studio in Bath Street and had held her first one-woman show in Glasgow, at Warneuke's Gallery, having previously submitted works to exhibitions at the Royal Academy, the Glasgow Institute and in Paris. In 1914 Norah became a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour.

She went on to study at Glasgow School of Art and is now regarded as part of the group known as the “Glasgow Girls”, which included Evelyn Carslaw, Eleanor Moore and Margaret Macdonald. Norah spent the First World War years, 1914-18, nursing in France as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at the Royaumont Abbey, outside of Paris. This experience inspired some of Norah's most powerful paintings, many of which have been acquired by public collections over the years.

After the war, Norah returned to her native Scotland to continue with her arts career. In 1920, Norah was commissioned to record the Scottish Women's Hospital for the Imperial War Museum, a commission that she gladly accepted because she felt “it was painted from within, at the time and absolutely true to fact”. In 1921 she became the first woman to be appointed to the Hanging Committee of the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, alongside artist James Whitelaw Hamilton and silversmith Bailie Robert Laing. The Committee's responsibility as "hangers" was to group the pictures exhibited in as effective a manner as possible, to enhance the overall effect.

Despite ill health, Norah suffered from cancer, she continued painting and exhibiting in Scotland, London and Paris (wiining medals in 1921 and 1923 Paris Salon) until her early death on 27th May 1931 in Glasgow.