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Una in focus

A time of gifts

Just in time for Christmas, we’ve discovered another Una Watters. This one, an early oil from the mid-1940s, was a gift to the father of the present owner of the work, who now lives in the UK. But unlike a lot of Una’s paintings which were distributed by her husband Eugene Watters after her untimely death, we know Una gifted this one herself shortly after it was completed.

We know the approximate date of the work (45.2cms x 55.2cms) because it’s signed with her married name. So it was most likely completed after Una’s marriage in 1945 and before the end of 1946, since it was a wedding gift to the recipients who married in that year.

“The picture used to hang in in our dining room in Blanchardstown,” the current owner recalls. “My father was the GP for the area at that time. Apparently, Una was a patient of his and the painting was a wedding gift to my parents from her.”

The owner made contact after seeing a post on the excellent “Dublin of Ould” Facebook group, which marked Una’s birthday anniversary in November. Thank you to them for being the conduit for this new Una Watters’ discovery!

The painting is a still life, unusual for Una, showing an arrangement of flowers, mop-headed chrysanthemums in white, pink, crimson and yellow in a dark, opaque vase which may itself be decorated. (An eagle-eyed follower of this site has suggested that, in fact, the vase is transparent and the reflections of the blossom heads can be seen in the glass – see comments above) A saucer stands nearby and the vase seems to be sitting on a brown surface, probably a table. The background is a parchment shade, but it’s vaguely illuminated by an unspecified light source outside of the frame.

Despite this illumination, the mood of the painting is sombre, although, of course, we’re only going by photographs here which can be deceptive in terms of light. But the chrysanthemums look like they might be on the turn, or are certainly a bit windblown, and the leaves are very stark against the subdued background.

Una returned to still life in her very late work – see the impressionistic Emerald Ballroom watercolours elsewhere on this site – and in one of the works that featured in the 1966 posthumous exhibition.

Flowerpiece (1965 – dimensions unknown) also depicts a flower arrangement but the mood couldn’t be more different. The flowers are rendered in Una’s late geometric style so the bowl and the blooms – pansies? – seem cut from the same material, both solid and structural, but also airy. The lighting here is almost celestial glancing off the cut-glass bowl and refracting out into a lemony haze beyond the glass, uniting the pale blue sky and the tender greenery visible beyond the metal window frame (almost certainly the view from the Watters’ cottage in Cappagh Cross.)

The mood is joyful, transcendent. These are not flowers on the turn, but abundant and gloriously in tune with nature, as it would seem is their creator.

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.

5 replies on “A time of gifts”

Thank you for brightening the season with the latest find of UW paintings. Lovely.
At a glance it appears to me that the vase is showing a reflection (partial) of the chrysanthemums: 2 white left and right, with a muted yellow, and a suggestion of the
darker crimson flowerhead below. I like the contrast between the shaggy flowers and the
gleaming vase.

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Just love this site; congratulations on the sleuthing. I think the ‘saucer’ may be a mirror. Is that a handle parallel to the bottom of the picture?
Many appreciative thanks.

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