History and Collections

Information about the history of Hospitalfield House, its inhabitants and the collections.

History

A hospital was built on the site in 1260 to support the new Benedictine Abbey in Arbroath. In 1664, after the reformation, the Reverend James Fraser bought the estate and in 1843 the artist Patrick Allan met and married Elizabeth Fraser. In 1902, following the terms of their bequest, Hospitalfield became an art school, later developing into a post graduate residential college.

In 1260 the Tironensian Benedictine order of monks built a hospital, later converted in to a monastery, with a vantage point over the North Sea, to provide for the many pilgrims travelling across sea and land to their new abbey at Arbroath. After the reformation the estate became privately owned and was acquired in 1664 by the Reverend James Fraser, Minister of Arbroath, and stayed in the Fraser family until 1890. In 1813 Walter Scott visited and was inspired to write his novel the Antiquary published in 1816. The home of The Antiquary, Monkbarns was based on Hospitalfield. The artist Patrick Allan is commissioned to make a series of illustrations for a new edition of the Antiquary, he returned from his London base to his home town of Arbroath and meets and marries the last heir to the estate, Elizabeth Fraser in 1843. They remodel the house creating a significant early Arts & Crafts building including the Picture Gallery, one of Scotland’s most important Victorian rooms. The Allan-Frasers’ left their estates and collections in trust to support artists and education in the arts. In 1902 Hospitalfield opened as a residential art school later altering the constitution in the 1920s to become a post graduate school. So the building became an important home and/or place of study for the early Scottish Modern painters including James Cowie, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde, Joan Eardley. So strong was the relationship between the four main art schools that there is an imprint of Hospitalfield in many artist’s experience of their student time; the alumni covers an impressive number of generations.

Painting Collection

The painting collection at Hospitalfield is predominantly oil paintings collected and commissioned by Patrick Allan-Fraser during the second half of the 19th Century from his peer group of artists. This group were referred to as The Clique and met at the Royal Academy Schools in London. The painting collection also includes works painted by Allan-Fraser showing european scenes and copies of masterpieces, which Patrick-Allan encountered during his travels, including of Titian’s Flora. There is also a series of small works showing local places. This ‘Arbroath’ series was mainly produced by promise of a commission for an edition of Sir Walter Scott’s The Antiquary.

Archive

There is an important collection of letters and papers that give valuable background to the history of the house, the estate and the collections. Of particular interest are the letters to Patrick Allan-Fraser from the artists that he commissioned works from for his collection. This part of the archive gives an invaluable background to the relationships that Allan-Fraser had with his artist friends. There is also a series of letters between Allan-Fraser and Charles Dickens and his associates as they discuss their efforts to provide for artists and writers of the future. Other valuable records include details of the day to day running of and the maintenance of the estate.

There is little information within the Trust’s own records of the 20th century however the Hospitalfield Alumni Association have recently invested funds in to a PhD position, supervised by the University of Aberdeen, that will start building the appropriate research culture around this aspect of Hospitalfield’s history and the impact of the ‘college’ on 20th century Scottish art.

It is the aim of the Trust to make this material available in a form that can be productively shared and enable the reading of Hospitalfield’s significant creative, cultural and social history over several centuries; significant for Angus and more broadly for Scotland. For more information on plan see Future Plan.

Library

In the mid 19th century Patrick Allan Fraser established a small library within the house. We are not quite sure of its location but we think that it was a small space, perhaps more of a store than what we think of conventionally as a library. The collection of books eventually found their way in to shelves and store rooms across the house until the late 1980s when Dr Willie Payne (Director of Hospitalfield 1975 – 2012) selected a room on the upper floor overlooking the walled garden and brought all the books in the house together in this one place.

The collection includes a small number of 18th century books that originate from the English Parrott family but the majority of the collection belonged to Patrick and Elizabeth Allan-Fraser. They include books on Scottish history, architecture and landscape. Art periodicals and collections of prints bound in to books that would have been used to learn about or as reference books for making art. The subjects include for example, classical architecture, sculpture and painting.

Mortuary Chapel

Patrick Allan-Fraser built the Mortuary Chapel for himself and Elizabeth to be interred within. It is an extraordinarily detailed building embellished with detailed stone carving.

The Mortuary Chapel is located in the Western Cemetery about 25 minutes walk from Hospitalfield.