Works of women watercolour artists to go on display


The work of a generation of women artists who made a significant contribution to the history of painting in Ireland has been located and dusted off, and will be on view at an exhibition called "A Century of Watercolours" in west Waterford this month.

The women founded a drawing society in Lismore in 1870. Their first exhibition was in the Courthouse, Clonmel, in May 1871. The society grew and adopted the title of the Watercolour Society of Ireland in 1888. Since 1891 annual exhibitions have been held in Dublin.

The work that emerged from the early years is little known, as few of them, except for names like Mildred Anne Butler and Rose Barton, are represented in public galleries.

The Lismore Arts Centre has found examples of these early works in private collections throughout the south and will exhibit them from April 23rd to 26th at its studio at Drumroe, Cappoquin.

Forty-five 19th-century watercolours will be on display, alongside about 20 works by contemporary artists in west Waterford. Courses for amateur and student artists are being run by the centre in the same week.

There will be a seminar on watercolours through the century in Lismore Courthouse, addressed by Prof Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, on Saturday, April 25th, and Patrick McBride, of the Paper Conservation Studios, will give a clinic on the conservation of watercolours on Sunday 26th.

The exhibition of watercolours will include works some of the founders of the drawing society in Lismore: Fanny Currey, Helen O'Hara, Pauline Prochazka and sisters Harriet and Frances Keane.

Some, like Fanny Currey, were serious professionals. The daughter of the agent on the Devonshire estate, she lived at Lismore Castle and studied in Paris.

After her father's death she earned a living as a nursery gardener and expert on daffodils. She was also a sculptress and cabinetmaker. Her watercolours were exhibited and sold widely.

Her friend, Helen O'Hara, from Portstewart, Co Derry, moved to Lismore in the late 1880s. More than 100 of her paintings were exhibited in England.

The directors of the arts centre, Ms Patricia Martin and Ms Susie Wingfield, despite extensive efforts have failed to find any works by two of the women watercolourists, Henrietta Phipps of Clonmel and Frances Musgrave of Cappoquin, but are hoping some will turn up.

The 19th-century women artists of the Lismore area were of a certain class: genteel ladies, they would have been mostly educated by governesses who would have been expected to teach them drawing and watercolour painting.

Experts on the period say that by the 1870s and 1880s some women were "allowed" to attend art schools, as Rose Barton, Mildred Anne Butler and Edith Somerville did, but there is no evidence of this for the 1860s.

Some of them probably taught each other, and their work is considered of extraordinary quality considering their lack of professional tuition.