Lady Alice Barnes
Doyenne of the arts;
Born March 9, 1914; Died November 10, 2010.
AN APPRECIATION LADY Alice Barnes led a life that was a remarkable combination of domesticity and artistry, linked to progressive art and design in London and Glasgow.
Her early childhood in London was based in Chelsea, in a flat above Terrey’s fruit shop in Cheyne Walk. Her father, Randolph Schwabe, art teacher and subsequently Slade Professor of Fine Art at London University and principal of the Slade School, was a gifted draughtsman, etcher and lithographer. Her mother, Gwendolen “Birdie”, Schwabe was also an artist.
Schwabe’s diaries show how connected his and his family’s lives were to the warp and weft of London artistic life. Their circle included, among others, Augustus John, William Rothenstein, J D Fergusson and Margaret Morris.
Alice’s upbringing was unconventional and her formal education patchy. An only child, she had dancing lessons from Margaret Morris, wore frocks made from William Morris fabric and, as a little girl, was taken up by her parents’ close friends, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. She was their regular companion at the idiosyncratic Blue Cockatoo restaurant in Cheyne Walk; was a frequent visitor to their London studios, where the high-backed chairs towered above her; holidayed with them in Dorset, and remembered a straw hat, festooned with fabric flowers, made for her by Macdonald.
Dancing and teaching provided a stimulating career in the 1930s. Working for Margaret Morris’s dance school, mostly with children, she travelled from the family home in Hampstead to schools and hospitals throughout the country, to aristocratic private clients, and even to Switzerland to promote “medical gymnastics” at a sanatorium in the mountains near Lausanne.
Following her marriage in 1941, the links with Mackintosh were renewed. Her husband, Harry Jefferson Barnes, was appointed in 1943 to teach drawing at the Glasgow School of Art, where he was to spend the rest of his career, becoming director in 1964. Scotland was to be her home for the rest of her life.
With grace, kindness and unfailing good humour, Alice ran a succession of large rambling family homes in Helensburgh, Lochgilphead and, finally, Whittingehame Drive, Glasgow, in the characterful studio-house John Ednie had designed for his own use. These homes were centres of warm hospitality and support, especially for her parents and parents-in-law, whom she looked after at home as they became increasingly frail and dependent.
But she also had time to look after friends, and the art school staff who were regularly sent to her for respite care. Her own artistic talents were expressed through ambitious and accomplished patchwork quilts and hangings, tapestries and knitting – usually to her own design and always joyful in their colours. She was always happy to pass on her enthusiasm and skills to the many children whom she met.
She suffered the tragic loss of her only son, Edward, aged 16, in 1965, and of her husband, in 1982, both from cancer. She spent many very happy years as a very closely involved grandmother to the children of her two daughters, Janet and Diana. Her last six years were spent in Wardside House, Muthill, where she was again much loved and continued to sew and enjoy meeting her family and friends.
Alice was part of my career as curator of Glasgow University’s Mackintosh Collection, from the outset. The friendship that developed was warmed by her lack of pretension (even though from 1980 she was Lady Barnes); by her clarity, enthusiasm and empathy; and by her many kindnesses, whether a brightly-coloured hand-knit for a new-born or the patient answering of questions about the distant past.
She was unfailingly tolerant of visitors, students and researchers, and, most recently, gave encouragement to the planned, and overdue, biography of her father. All such visits were enriched with attentive hospitality, including sand cake, baked to Margaret Macdonald’s recipe.
She will be remembered by many as the last direct link with the Mackintoshes. But she was more than that. She was also a talented dancer, teacher and craftswoman; and a loving and attentive mother; grandmother to Ben, Ed, Katherine and Alex; cousin; and friend.