Obituary: Tribute to unique figure in Harrogate's art world as family hail Andrew Stewart as 'inspirational'

The passing of Harrogate gallery owner Andrew Stewart leaves a massive gap in the town’s arts scene. His grieving family have talked about the loss of this “inspirational” figure to Graham Chalmers, who on occasion, was fortunate to work on various arts events with this charismatic and loved figure.

By Graham Chalmers
Monday, 25th April 2022, 10:49 am
The late Andrew Stewart in front of a painting by Alan Davie at his Harrogate gallery, 108 Fine Art.

The death of inspirational Harrogate gallery owner Andrew Stewart at the age of 62 after a long illness leaves a giant hole in the town’s art world.

Regarded as the most significant independent figure on the scene in the last quarter of the century, the charismatic and debonair Stewart redrew the arts map of Harrogate almost the instant he launched his 108 Fine Art gallery in 1997.

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In a statement to the Harrogate Advertiser, Andrew Stewart's family said: “Andrew was an inspirational man who lit up a room with his positive presence and humble personality."

His devastated family - wife Gillian and daughters Scarlett and India - said their father had simply been inspirational.

In a statement to the Harrogate Advertiser, they said: “Andrew was an inspirational man who lit up a room with his positive presence and humble personality.

“He impacted Harrogate and Yorkshire profoundly, working locally at the Mercer Art Gallery and Bonhams North East, where he collaborated and grew deep connections within the art world.

“We are all devastated. It has been a dreadful time for us all, but we were all there to support him.

“He was super strong throughout the whole process. We are so grateful for the time we were able to spend with him.”

A man of charm and vision - as well as a fine taste in suits - Stewart’s reputation went national in 2001 when he played a key role in uncovering more than 750 lost works by reclusive Leeds modern art master Joash Woodrow in a suburban house in Chapel Allerton.

Born in Dumbarton in 1960, Stewart’s enthusiasm for art as a youngster in Scotland saw him train in drawing and painting at Duncan of Jordanstone college in Dundee, where he met his future wife Gillian.

In 1983 his promise was recognised when he was granted the Winston Churchill Scholarship, using it to fund his travels in Italy in 1983.

Working initially as an artist, he was later employed as a museum-based paintings conservator and then as curator of art, before being appointed as the head of the picture department at Bonhams Auctioneers, North East.

After marrying Gillian in York and moving to Harrogate in 1987, he eventually ‘went solo’ to establish 108 Fine Art.

Never one to be deflected by obstacles, Stewart transformed his family home in Harrogate into a gallery space not once but twice with the help of Gillian, Scarlett and India - firstly at West End Avenue, then secondly, and more ambitiously, at Cold Bath Road.

It was there in 2010, that the Stewarts took a damp, three-storey, Victorian townhouse, allegedly built for the Duchess of Devonshire in 1830, which had been owned for a time by well-known Harrogate art collectors Ian and Sarah Douglass, and turned it into the most wonderful gallery - once electricity had been installed properly.

From that address in Cold Bath Road, whose presence was usually marked by a huge flag hanging from the top of the building, Stewart built up close relationships with some of the biggest names in British art,many of them Royal Academicians.

These ranged from a veteran titan of abstract artist, Alan Davie, to rising stars such as sculptor Michael Sandle, figurative painter Paul Reid and surrealist Nicholas Jolly.

The always-positive Stewart was just as supportive of young talent - whether that was pupils at nearby Western Primary School, fledgling art curators such as Richard McTague, who went on to set up Harrogate independent gallery, RedHouse Originals, or newcomers such as Zimbabwean artist Jasper Pedyo and Japanese artist Yukako Sakakura.

As well as his wide-ranging knowledge of contemporary art, Stewart was blessed with an irresistible charm which combined a rare combination of talents and made him friends in all his travels.

Self-confident but modest, fun-loving but with a disdain for flim-flam, he was a man of passion with a cool head, a risk taker open to any idea except a bad one.

There was something dashing but utterly likable about Stewart, a man of action as well as words.

Asides from a warm welcome, you never knew what to expect when visiting 108 Fine Art, which was as much of an open house as a professional gallery can get.

Renowned cultural critic Jonathan Meades might be sitting in the Stewarts’ kitchen having a coffee and a chat.

There might be a world class cellist playing in the basement.

Or former Orange Juice singer Edwyn Collins might be performing a song in the lobby.

In his final months, Stewart was delighted to have completed his debut rock album Devotion, featuring 12 self-written tracks, instrumentation by Harrogate musician Jason Odle and cover artwork by artist Nicholas Jolly.

Art was by no means his only endeavour in a life lived well with a smile to the end.

His family said his legacy would continue to be felt in the years to come.

“What made Andrew so unique was not only his creativity, but also his love for flying, cycling, motorbiking, and music.

"He was as a family man, a friend, an entrepreneur, a mentor, a storyteller, and much more.

“He left a great legacy through the consequences of his actions.”

Andrew Stewart, born Thursday, March 10, 1960, died Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

A funeral will take place at Stonefall Cemetery in Harrogate at 2.20pm next Thursday, April 28.