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Mary Millar Watt

(Dedham 1924-2023)

Willie Barns-Graham (1912-2004), 1942  *RESERVED*

pencil and watercolour on card

signed, titled and dated in pencil lower left (correctly spelt) and over-written with ink ‘Willie Barnes-Graham [sic.]/ 42 Mary Millar Watt’

33 x 24 cm.

in a period frame


From the Estate of Mary Millar Watt (1924-2023)

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, known as Willie, was Edinburgh-born and trained at the Edinburgh School of Art, but in 1940 moved from London to St Ives, among some of the most avant garde talents who had gathered there during the War. She retained a studio there for the rest of her life, and would have come to know the artistic Millar Watt family who had a studio opposite the harbour, at Chy-an-Chy corner. Indeed, Willie and Mary Millar Watt both attended the St Ives School of Art led by Leonard Fuller. This watercolour shows Mary’s bravura talent at just eighteen years old. There is another, smaller sketch by Mary which relates to the present work in the collection of Tate. 

Mary was the daughter of artists, John Millar Watt and Amy Watt, and there are family photographs of her at the easel aged just four or five years old. During WWII she worked for the Charts Department of the Admiralty, but after the War moved to Chelsea with her parents, studying at the Royal Academy Schools between 1947-1952. Her first job after graduation from the Academy Schools was to go and paint scenery for the Kingston theatre in Jamaica (today the Ward Theatre) – around the same time that artists like John Minton were also there. 

Mary would go on to earn a living mainly as a portraitist, but like her mother, flower paintings were a shared passion, and she had a residency at Kew as a young artist. She was a member and exhibitor with the Society of Women Artists, and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy throughout her long life. Settling in East Anglia, where she had spent her early childhood.

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