Gillian Jason, Primrose Hill art gallery owner who championed female artists
'She had never been formally educated but she spent her entire life reading and looking at art'
02 August, 2020 — By Helen Chapman
Gillian Jason with granddaughter Millie and daughter Elli
PRINCE Charles arrived at Gillian Jason’s art gallery in Primrose Hill after opening hours and in the dead of night. The royal’s secret visit led to him buying one of the paintings.
It was a measure of how successful the Gillian Jason Gallery, in Ormonde Terrace off Prince Albert Road, founded in 1982, had become. Ms Jason, who died last week at her home in Norfolk, aged 79, was celebrated as a gallery owner who championed female artists.
Her daughter, Elli Jason, took over as managing director in 2017. And granddaughter Millie Foster is also director.
“What she did was quite extraordinary,” said Elli. “She had a very erudite and successful following. She sold a painting to Prince Charles when the street was empty and the gallery was closed. I didn’t know of it at the time.”
Gillian went to boarding school in Staffordshire at the age of four. Her teachers noticed her talent and encouraged her to go to the Royal Ballet in her teens.
She retired from ballet in 1966 and began training with the Opera Centre as a singer before moving to Camden Town.
In 1957 she met her future husband, actor Neville Jason, while both were performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Old Vic. Neville died in 2015 and there is a plaque commemorating him in Ormonde Terrace.
Elli said: “My father was an actor and found himself out of work in mid-70s having an early fated career. That’s when they began organising exhibitions together. She [Gillian] was self-taught in that way – she was trained in ballet, not a trained businesswoman – but she sold the prints that were in the gallery and took it from there.”
Alex Jason, their son, said: “They were dedicated to each other. It was obvious they were not going to go anywhere without each other. Their love for one another was important. Dad was interested in Buddhist teachings and Mum was caring and wanted to be loved. The way they felt for each other was special.”
Elli and Alex recalled being dragged around art galleries, museums and music recitals as children.
“She had a huge thirst for learning,” said Elli. “She had never been formally educated but she spent her entire life reading and looking at art.”
Gillian collected modern British art and found herself particularly taken with constructivism, an art movement from Russia reflecting industrialisation from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.
Elli added: “She was intrigued by difficult times in history. She identified with those who were troubled. I think there was something about her going to boarding school at age four that lent her to identify that way.”
Gillian died after suffering a stroke. Her funeral was held in Norwich on Tuesday.
She leaves two children, Elli and Alex, and five grandchildren, Millie, Clara, Max, Oscar and Thalia.
A memorial service in her honour will be held in London later in the year for family and friends.