Best known as the leading historian on the topic of the Scottish Enlightenment and its wider European context Dr Nicholas Phillipson (1937-2018) played a crucial role in establishing the field on firm foundations, his invaluable contribution to the topic marking him as one of the best-known historians of Scotland in the world. We are privileged to offer a selection of artworks from Phillipson’s collection (Lots 36 - 52) to the market in our 22 January auction of Contemporary & Post-War Art.
Dr Nicholas Phillipson was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and read history at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his PhD. He joined the University of Edinburgh in 1967, remaining there as lecturer, senior lecturer and reader in history until retiring in 2004, when he was appointed honorary research fellow.
He published books on different aspects of the Scottish enlightenment and the Age of Improvement, while his first major biography, of David Hume, was published in 1989 and reissued in 2011. He marked the 400th anniversary of the University of Edinburgh in 1983 with a quizzical book entitled Universities, Society and the Future. He also held a number of visiting positions at Princeton University, Yale University, the Folger Institute in Washington DC, and LMU Munich.
Phillipson's best known work, the culmination of many years of intensive research, was his definitive text on the famous Scots economist; ‘Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (2010). The biography was of unprecedented depth and touched on new ground. It was joint winner of the Saltire Society’s Scottish research book of the year, and was extremely well received, with Oliver Kamm in The Times referring to it as “a remarkable and often brilliant intellectual biography”. Although Phillipson met Margaret Thatcher and was impressed by her interest in Smith’s theories of lower taxes, smaller government and freer markets, his natural milieu was the centre-left ground of the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown days. Brown, who represented the Kirkcaldy constituency where Smith once lived, consulted Phillipson about his recent book, My Life, Our Times (2017), and was in touch in the days before his death.
Lyon & Turnbull have the privilege of presenting a selection of artworks from Phillipson’s collection to the market. His friends knew him as an exceedingly keen mind - cosmopolitan and sophisticated, and his art collection is an elegant physical representation of these attributes and of his refreshingly catholic, indeed enlightened, tastes. He was a generous patron of the arts, and an early supporter of the careers of many now well recognised talents, including Callum Innes, a fine example of whose work is represented here for sale.