Ireland’s finest practitioner of botanical art

Wendy Walsh: April 9th, 1915 - March 3rd, 2014

Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 09:47

The world of botanical art in Ireland has lost its finest and most distinguished artist with the recent death of Wendy Walsh, at the age of 98. Born in Cumbria, she was educated at home.

As a 14-year-old, she read Gray’s Anatomy and several other books on comparative anatomy and kept a meticulous nature notebook. She received no formal training in art and described herself as an “unorthodox artist”.

She taught herself by drawing and painting squares, and learning about colours and what they did, so that she could look at her subjects, be they animals or plants, and know precisely what colours would be required to recapture them.

She always maintained Ireland offered the most beautiful light for painting anywhere in the world. She said: “It has something to do with how things look right after a rain shower has passed and the sun comes out. The light then is so sharp and dazzling; it brings everything into focus and helps me to be so accurate with detail.”

She started drawing at six years of age and continued to do so throughout her long life. At no stage in her life, her deep love and enthusiasm for drawing and painting diminished and painting remained the love of her life.

Having married, travelled and lived in Japan, Singapore and the US, Walsh moved with her husband John to Lusk, north county Dublin almost 50 years ago.


Powers of concentration
Blessed with excellent powers of concentration, very good eyesight, and an all-important steady hand, Walsh moved her brush with absolute precision to get it right the first time – therein lay her extraordinary ability to give life to a stem, leaf, bud or flower on a paper.

Her advice to young botanical artists was to love what they are doing, enjoy solitude, strict discipline, and be able to sacrifice many other things in their lives to produce the best pictures.

She believed in an innate ability to draw and paint, and has enjoyed giving classes on drawing and painting. Indeed, it was that innate ability and deep- seated love for drawing and painting that enabled Walsh to be associated with numerous publications, particularly during the past three decades.

She worked closely with Dr E Charles Nelson, formerly taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, on two volumes of An Irish Florilegium – Wild and Garden Flowers of Ireland , which were published in 1983 and 1987. Other publications in collaboration with Dr Nelson included An Irish Flower Garden Replanted (1984) – a collection of botanical portraits using Chinese inks and watercolours, A Prospect of Irish Flowers (1990), The Burren: a Companion to the Wildflowers of Ireland’s Limestone Wilderness (1991), Trees of Ireland: Native and Naturalized (1993) and Flowers of Mayo (1995).

Wendy’s work also included illustrations for a history of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, and contributions to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine .

Walsh’s major works were in watercolour – her favourite medium – and her numerous botanical illustrations have substantially enriched the literature on native plants of Ireland.

Her 1975 paintings of a series of kaue , the floral head-dresses worn by people of Gilbert and Ellis Islands on special occasions were reproduced on stamps issued in 1978 by the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati).

She also received commissions from the Department of Post and Telegraphs (now An Post), which included a series of sets of stamps and first day covers celebrating native plants and animals from 1979-1986.

Her work has been exhibited in London, Pittsburgh, Melbourne, South Africa and many times in Ireland. She regularly showed her work at the Watercolour Society of Ireland exhibitions at the Town Hall in Dún Laoghaire.


Illustrations
Wendy’s outstanding botanical illustrations brought her many national and international awards and honours.

In 1997 Trinity College Dublin awarded her an honorary degree and a year later she was made an honorary life member of the Royal Dublin Society.

She received many gold and silver gilt medals from the Royal Horticultural Society and their Medal of Honour in 1996. She received the Alpine Society Gold Award in 1991 and 1993 and the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland gold medal .

In April 2005 a set of four hellebore prints was issued to celebrate her 90th birthday. These signed and numbered limited edition prints had a global reach. Walsh’s set of eight clematis paintings were exhibited at the International Clematis Society Conference (Dublin City University) in July 2006.

She continued to draw and paint with passion and ever- increasing enthusiasm, primarily for her own pleasure, in her home in Burtown, Athy, Co Kildare. Her singular regret was not publishing a book of drawings and paintings of floral head-dresses worn on special occasions by people of Kiribati.

She is survived by her daughters Lesley and Anna, son Michael, grandchildren and great- grandchildren.