We’re very pleased to announce that the retrospective exhibition we’ve been working towards for the last two-and-a-half years, Una Watters: Into the Light, will go ahead at the United Arts Club in Dublin next month. (Details below)
Our aim is to recreate as closely as possible the last retrospective of Una’s work, a posthumous exhibition organised by her husband, Eugene Watters. We used the catalogue of this exhibition as a guide in our quest to trace Una’s “lost” paintings. Because we didn’t manage to find all 37 works in that show, the 2022 retrospective is, by necessity, smaller. However, it does feature some work not in the 1966 exhibition and some newly discovered watercolours.
Although Una Watters: Into the Light is by its nature a backward glance at Una’s work, we like to think it’ll be a step forward in terms of her visibility and reputation.
The Farm, featured above, (oil on canvas, dimensions unknown) is one of the paintings that you’ll be able to see in the show which will run from March 10 to April 2.
It’s a late work (1964) and represents territory very close to Una’s heart, featuring as it does her parental home and the land around it at Cappagh Cross, Finglas. The same landscape is depicted in Harvest (see our blog, “The Grim Reaper”, Nov 21, 2020) and even tangentially in the background of Flowerpiece (“A Time of Gifts”, Dec 22, 2021)
What probably isn’t clear from the reproduction here is that Una used gold leaf for the meadow that dominates the painting, devouring over half of the pictorial space. Gold leaf is more often associated with religious paintings although the modernist painter Patrick Scott (1921 – 2014), a near contemporary of Una’s, and one of the first Irish exponents of pure abstraction, incorporated geometrical forms in gold leaf against a pale tempura background in his iconic mature work.
Some of Una’s early work concentrated on religious themes e.g. Annunciation (1943) which was shown in the original 1966 retrospective and is now, unfortunately, lost. Another painting, The Flight into Egypt, is mentioned in correspondence. Due to an oversight by Una’s husband, Eugene, it was not included in the 1966 show although it was in the possession of Una’s sister at the time. This work, too, has not been located.
Una’s use of gold leaf in The Field, a secular work, is an interesting choice. It lends a spiritual emphasis to the pastoral idyll, elevating nature to the sacred realm. Harvest, one of her last works, has the same golden glow, though without gold leaf so its atmosphere is predominantly nostalgic. (The work is known colloquially among family members as Tea in the Fields.)
One of the figures in The Farm might well be Una herself and it, too, might be a recollection of a childhood scene. The naieve depiction of the farm buildings and house, the ducks in the pale blue pond, even the expanse of the meadow suggest a child’s eye perspective, intimating the vastness of the landscape and, temporally, the seeming endlessness of summer days.
It’s unclear what the figure in white is doing – pointing to something or perhaps she’s picking blackberries? Is that a pail in her left hand? Compare the stance of this figure to the two gambolling girls – Eugene Watters’ nieces – in Wild Apples (“Wild Apples”, June 24, 2020). Another female figure is lolling against a green mound while on the far right a calf, or is it a large dog, stands motionless in the sunshine. So far, so figurative. But the long, stalky green shadows and those trademark cubist trees show Una’s late abstract tendencies, as does the patterning of the landscape.
It’s unlikely that Una would ever have travelled to the far-reaches of abstraction that Patrick Scott inhabited, although his early work was, like Una’s, highly representational. (He jokingly referred to himself as an Irish Grandma Moses.) But it does beg the question – would Una, like Scott, have moved further into abstraction had she lived?
Una Watters: Into the Light runs at the United Arts Club, 3 Upr Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin 2, March 10 – April 2, 2022.