News Una in focus

Found and lost

Woman Sewing (dimensions unavailable) is a work of Una’s that dates to 1958. It featured on the cover of the catalogue for her posthumous 1966 exhibition, organised by her husband Eugene, and held at the Dublin Painters Gallery on St Stephen’s Green, almost 55 years ago.

It’s timely to be considering this work today since we’ve finalised dates for our own retrospective of Una’s work (after a number of COVID- led cancellations) for March 11 – April 3, 2022, at the United Arts Club, 3 Fitzwilliam Street Upper, Dublin.

This show will feature as many of the works we can trace from the 1966 show – currently tallying at 26 out of 37 – plus her rediscovered watercolours ( the Emerald Ballroom series – see elsewhere on this site).

Woman Sewing has a strangely anatomical quality as if we’re seeing the subject with x-ray vision – down to her very bones. Look at her arms, or her clearly delineated breasts like perfect moon-like globes under her workaday pinafore. Her sewing hand is minutely rendered, the slender tapering figures, the translucent fingernails and the precise grip of the needle. Light blossoms at her throat in a rounded countour that echoes her breasts and even the pattern she’s embroidering. So although the painting is figurative, there’s a geometrical abstraction at work here as well.

The blue/black palette is reminiscent of Meditation, an undated work of Una’s that we’ve discussed elsewhere in the blog, (August 16,2020) but unlike Meditation this work is not delving into the mystical, but observing more earthy pursuits.

Here is a woman absorbed in craft work. The expression on her face is inward-looking, her eyes downcast, a smile playing on her lips. It’s a depiction of someone taking pride and pleasure in artistic work. It could even be seen as a stylised self-portrait ( Una was a talented seamstress).

The sad thing about Woman Sewing is that although we’ve traced the owner of the work, he cannot locate it, so it’s both found and lost. His family came into possession of it after the 1966 show, he told me, and he remembers it being on display in the house in the 1960s. But at some stage it was put away and now he’s not sure where it might be.

We’re hoping if he reads this he might send another search party into the attic so that it can join its companions in the upcoming show. As the shop window image for her original retrospective, Woman Sewing really needs to be in the 2022 show.

Addendum: Please go to comments at the top of this post where similarities are drawn by one of our followers between Una’s Woman Sewing and the work of Fernand Leger. I include the images referenced here.

Fernand Leger: Woman with a Cat (1921)
Fernand Leger: Woman Sewing (1909)

Mary Morrissy

By Mary Morrissy

Mary Morrissy curates this site. She is an award-winning novelist, short story writer and journalist. She has taught creative writing at university level in the US and Ireland for the past 20 years, and is also an individual literary mentor.

4 replies on “Found and lost”

Mary, in spite of the fact that we know nothing about the scale (which is, of course, a crucial source of meaning) I think this is a key work. Thematically, it highlights the fact that Una’s emphasis always seems to be on leisure rather than labor — which renders the works less overtly political but is still of significance in its own way. Formally, I’m very interested in the multivalent forms, especially that of the woman’s design which is simultaneously a benign reference to femininity, and an explicitly sexual reference. I think this reading in reinforced by the presence of what David Scott (TCD) describes as a “double icon” — in which two forms engage with each other without interacting in plastic terms — in this case I’m referring to the circles that constitute the subject’s breasts and the curvilinear that she is creating herself. In doing so, it highlights this form of gendered activity as an act of self-creation.

I suspect Watters’ work owes a great deal to Fernand Leger. Two works in particular spring to mind: thematically and structurally, it bears comparison to Leger’s Woman Sewing (1909); formally, I see elements of his later Woman WIth a Cat (1921), especially in the geometric forms that represents the figure’s breasts.

Liked by 1 person

Thank you, S – this is most informative, as usual, and the Leger comparison is fascinating. His Woman Sewing seems untypical of his more geometric, “mechanical” style. But the chiming with Una’s work is unmistakable. I’ll post an image so readers can see the similarities.


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