Henry & Sula Walton: A Bequest and Legacy

Henry and Sula Walton have played - and continue to play - a major role at the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS). The bequest of their art collection in 2012 and their creation of a fund, available to NGS specifically for the acquisition of modern artworks, have proved transformative.

Come along to our current exhibition New Arrivals: from Salvador Dalí to Jenny Saville, at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One) and look closely at the credit lines on the wall labels. You’ll see that the Henry and Sula Walton Fund has allowed us to buy major works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Jenny Saville, Gwen John, Toyen, Leonora Carrington and Dorothea Tanning – all world-class works of the very highest order. None of this would have been possible without their foresight and incredible generosity.

Henry and Sula Walton, c.1960

Professor Henry Walton (1924-2012) and Dr Sula Walton (1924-2009) were prominent figures in Edinburgh academia for fifty years. Their house in Blacket Place, in the south of Edinburgh, became a gathering place not just for academics, but also for artists and art lovers, for Henry and Sula shared a passion for the arts.

Their interests extended from ancient Chinese art to Japanese prints, from Persian rugs to Rembrandt etchings, from Picasso linocuts to contemporary film, dance and theatre.

Following their move from Blacket Place to a smaller flat in Edinburgh in 2009, some 200 works from their remarkable art collection were placed on loan to the National Galleries of Scotland.

The collection included prints by Rembrandt, Cézanne, Picasso and Hockney and paintings by Alexei Jawlensky, Joan Eardley, Hans Hoffmann and Anne Redpath. The loan became a bequest following Henry Walton’s death in July 2012.

Sula and Henry Walton, c.1960

Born in Berlin in 1924, Sula Wolff moved to Britain in 1933. She studied Medicine at the University of Oxford and then trained as a psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in London. There she met South-African-born Henry Walton, a psychiatrist who had completed ground-breaking research in the field of alcoholism. They married in 1957. They moved to Edinburgh in 1962 where Henry became Senior Lecturer and then Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh.

Sula became a Consultant Child Psychiatrist at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Her book Children Under Stress (1969) remains a definitive study and her teaching shaped many careers worldwide.  Professor Walton founded the Association for Medical Education in Europe and was its president from 1962-96; he also worked with UNICEF and UNESCO.

They were a formidable pair, but never acted in that way. They both wore their learning lightly and were great listeners and great fun. A conversation could prompt Henry to quote Shakespeare at length and Sula to quietly release detailed knowledge of contemporary film and theatre. Hospitable and known for their parties, an evening in their company was an education and a treat. Sula was an amazing cook and Henry was known for his home-made ice-cream.

Following Henry’s death, the Waltons’ Estate was reconfigured as the Henry and Sula Walton Fund, an independent, registered charity designed to help NGS with acquisitions of modern art. In a period when prices for major artworks have soared, and our own funds are severely limited, the Walton Fund has proved transformative. Acquisitions made with the Fund, often with additional input from our own resources and from Art Fund, include two Picassos (Henry’s favourite artist), Salvador Dalí’s Lobster Telephone and a Jenny Saville – remarkably, the first painting by her to enter a UK public collection.

We have also focussed on adding works by women Surrealists to our world-famous Surrealist collection; with the Walton Fund and additional help from Art Fund we have acquired major paintings by Toyen, Dorothea Tanning and Leonora Carrington. In each case the aim has been to honour the Waltons’ legacy by acquiring truly world-class works, that the greatest museums in the world would want to own and that the public would love to see.

Sula and Henry Walton, on the stair of their home in Blacket Place, Edinburgh, 2007. © Photograph by Antonia Reeve
By Patrick Elliott, Chief Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, 14 January 2022