The late Dorothy McEwan.

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Shy head girl of one of Scotland’s finest schools, Dumfries Academy, unassuming daughter of the manse, university linguist, Bletchley-trained, quietly accomplished at everything she put her hand to, dedicated wife and mother – it wasn’t until her late 30s that she came into her own, businesswise, with the creation of The McEwan Gallery.

Strongly supported by her academic husband, Dr Peter McEwan (and, latterly, son Rhod who now runs the gallery), she was at its helm for over 40 years, establishing it as one of Scotland’s finest art galleries. Modest beginnings saw Dorothy open her first antique shop, The Snuff Box, in Braemar on Royal Deeside.

In the 1960s, when Peter took up a teaching post at Harvard University, she opened Balmoral Antiques in the hard-nosed and very male antique district of Charles Street, Boston.

Once back in the UK, she was a regular at antique fairs around the country – Chelsea, Buxton, Harrogate, game fairs (often on vetting committees) – and an annual three-week show in Toronto.

In 1975 The McEwan Gallery in its current guise opened in the family’s artist-built Swiss-style home. She established it as one of the local attractions on Royal Deeside.

Contemporary champion

As well as specialising in 18th-19th century Scottish paintings, Dorothy championed contemporary artists, sculptors and ceramicists.

The gallery’s credentials were further cemented by Peter, who wrote and published (a 12-year labour of love) the definitive Dictionary of Scottish Art and Architecture, the go-to reference for national and private collectors to this day.

Dorothy’s passion for paintings and those who collected them, linked to a keen eye and comprehensive knowledge, imparted in her unassuming manner, was what drew clients, artists, and dealers back time and again to this oasis in the Highlands. Her fascination with the art world remained undimmed and into her 90s she could be found, iPad in hand, scouring the salerooms.

A self-confessed risk-taker, arguably her most audacious purchase was an unsigned Gainsborough painting which many in the art world deemed wrong, but is now fully verified and hanging in Gainsborough’s House Museum in Suffolk.

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