In December 2019 we were in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, tracing Una’s work in the area. Una and her husband Eugene spent many summers in Ballinasloe ( Eugene’s home town) where they both followed their artistic pursuits, he writing, she painting and both of them fishing on the River Suck. (Una was an expert fisherwoman and the river features in much of her work.)
One of the persistent rumours we heard was that after her death, Eugene had gifted a series of abstract watercolours to the bridge club in the town. (In fact, the watercolour series were donated to the local diocese and were hung in the room where the bridge club met in what was then the Emerald Ballroom on Society Street in Ballinasloe, now repurposed as a social centre.
The bridge club has long since moved on to meet in another premises but we were shown the room the club met in – now a classroom for computer training – see image below. There we discovered nine watercolours by Una Watters bolted to the wall. The walls around them had been repainted numerous times over the years but the frames had never been moved. In a storeroom, five more watercolours were discovered, making a total of 14.
When the watercolours were being reframed, five more images were discovered on the reverse side, bringing the total to 19. The numbering of these works suggests there were originally 25.
They depict impressionistic landscapes and flowers executed swiftly and are delicate and ethereal in mood. They were were perhaps studies for a bigger work, though they have a real minimalist charm in their own right. Eugene documented the process behind these works which were completed very shortly before Una’s unexpected death on November 21, 1965.
“About a fortnight before the end,” he wrote, “she painted a remarkable series of watercolours, in a style and technique she had not used before. These pictures, 25 in number, were all painted in a single day, the artist working at high speed, as if hypnotised, in a final burst of creative energy. The room at Cappagh Crossroads (looking out on the late-autumn garden, trees, cornfields, and the Dublin hills) was simply littered with watercolours; and so absorbed was the artist that she did not wait to get fresh paper but painted new aspects of the developing theme on the backs of those already dry.”
“The series begins with flowerpieces, in an evening mood, and a violet sky. Then the theme passes into autumnal duskscapes, in which trees, fields, flowers, hedgerows, air, earth and skylose outline and become more and more formless in a gathering dark. The climax is reached in the nocturnal No. 13, with its three wintered tree-shapes (reminiscent of Calvary) against the occulted moon.”
The slideshow sequence above begins with the five reverso images and then follows the numbering on the framed watercolours. The image Eugene Watters describes as reminiscent of Cavalry is no 13 in our sequence and is titled “Black Trees Against Blue”.
When these watercolours were presented to the bridge club, it’s clear that Eugene Watters titled the work on behalf of his wife. Such is the experimental and impulsive nature of these pieces, it’s not clear if Una had intended them as finished and therefore had not given them names.