News Detail

Mar 09 15

Watson painting found in Oregon USA!

Watson Birds Project received an email from Kay and Kevin Williams from Oregon USA requesting information about a painting that they found in a cramped little store in Aurora, Oregon.  When they found the painting, it was covered in 'tons' of dust and grime with a terrible dirty white frame barely hanging around it with some jute string being used as a hanging cable.  A piece of scrap paper from a desk calendar attached to the painting read; "The painting hung in the Gov. office sometime during the 1960's as part of an Oregon art exhibit. Purchased in Portland."  That scrap of paper did not give the claim any credence, but they fell in love with the painting and knew they had to rescue it. 

After Kay and Kevin purchased the painting they asked the seller to help decipher the signature, in which they could clearly make out Donald well enough.  It took four of them -but finally determined that the last name was Watson.  Once they got the painting home Kay and Kevin looked up Donald Watson on the internet and found our website. 

Kay and Kevin are so delighted that they found this painting and feel a responsibility to it.  It has been professionally cleaned and framed and will be taken care of. After having it cleaned and cared for they got in touch with Watson Birds Project to find out more about it, where did it come from? Where was it painted and which date was it painted?

The information was passed around a group of people whom specialise in Donald Watson’s work, or are either a close friend or family to the late Donald Watson. Chris Rollie from St John’s Town Of Dalry, a knowledgeable individual regarding Donald’s history and Area Manager for RSPB in South West Scotland responded first. He could incredibly confirm that the painting was definitely painted in SW Scotland and almost certainly Galloway, his guess would be the river Ken, looking upstream towards Cairnsmore with Carsphairn in the background. There also appears to be 2-3 goosanders (or megansers?).

Style-wise, it’s early, but tighter than his 1940s work. Donald did not come to live in Galloway until 1951, though he did spend some time with Sir Arthur Duncan in Dumfriesshire post-war.  The dark blue-green in the middle of the picture is a young conifer plantation and points to 1957 or ’67.  In the fifties he often dropped 19 from the date, though we are not sure whether he did this so much in the sixties.  If pushed Chris would regard the date as ’57, but could be wrong.  Donald also exhibited in Toronto in 1975, but this picture would have sold long before that! As Chris says it’s ‘a real cracker!’

Secondly Donald Watson’s daughter Louise Watson responded and could confirm the following; “As far as I'm aware my father never visited Oregon, so it would not have been painted there. He did have a number of good friends in the States, and there would certainly have been occasions when his paintings would have sold there. It may well be that the details of how the painting got to Oregon will remain a mystery.

My sisters and I also agree that the date is 1957, a time when he painted quite a lot in oils (later he painted mostly in watercolours). I think that the birds are goosanders. I agree with Chris that the paintings is surely of the River Ken, somewhere near the village of Dalry, where the family lived. It is a lovely painting, and of course new to us, as we were all too young to have seen the painting before it was sold!”

After a few more correspondences Chris and Louise could indeed confirm that the painting was done near the River Ken and dated 1957. Donald used oil paints to capture the detail of female goosanders. It was also highlighted by Chris that the whereabouts of the painting today may have been via Donald’s good friend Hugh Boyd, wildfowl expert and great friend of Donald.  Boyd thought no-one painted geese better than Donald, which praise Donald always treasured highly as both men were close friends of Sir Peter Scott, celebrated wildfowl artist and broadcaster (and co-author with Boyd of various wildfowl publications). 

Kay and Kevin were delighted to receive such an in-depth analysis of their beloved painting, in which they kindly donated the painting back to its original home in their will. To which the Watson Birds Project accepted with delight and are extremely grateful that Kay and Kevin got in touch to share such a wonderful piece.


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