Amidst the rich tapestry of Scotland’s art history, the name Elizabeth Mary Watt (1886-1954) emerges as a distinguished figure whose creative prowess was nothing short of enchanting. Born in Dundee and later associated with Glasgow’s illustrious art scene, Watt’s journey, from a milliner in Dundee to a celebrated member of the ‘Glasgow Girls’, epitomizes dedication and artistic brilliance. But beyond her geographic ties and prominent affiliations, it was Watt’s ethereal depictions of fantasy, elves, and pixies that truly set her apart. Merging the vibrancy of real-world landscapes with the whimsical allure of fantasy beings, her paintings transported viewers into a realm where the mundane met the magical, showcasing a unique blend of realism and dreamlike wonder.
From Dundee to Glasgow: A Transition of Destiny
The city of Dundee witnessed the birth of this prodigious talent on 14th February 1885. Daughter to Elizabeth and Alexander L. Watt, Elizabeth Mary Watt’s early life hinted at her imminent tryst with the arts. After a brief stint as a milliner and a subsequent move to Glasgow following her father’s relocation to America, Watt began working for the renowned woven fabric maker, Joseph M. Sadler. Concurrently, her enrolment as an evening student at The Glasgow School of Art in 1905 marked the initiation of her formal training.
While working as a colourist, she pursued courses in Drawing and Painting, tutored by eminent instructors such as David F. Wilson and David N. Rollo. Her commitment to her craft and her undeniable talent culminated in her being awarded the Haldane Travelling Bursary, which took her to the artistic havens of Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome. This expedition not only enriched her artistic vocabulary but firmly established her as a notable name in Glasgow’s art circuit.
A Mélange of Magic and Artistry
Watt’s artistry was deeply influenced by her surroundings and experiences. Whether it was the Scottish west coast’s rugged beauty or the whimsical alleys of Florence, her paintings were a testament to her profound observations. However, what set Watt apart was her predilection for fantasy. Her portrayal of elves and pixies amidst lush landscapes, often reminiscent of dreamy settings, became emblematic of her style. This juxtaposition of the real and the imagined resonated deeply with art enthusiasts, earning her a distinct place amongst her contemporaries.
Beyond her canvases, Watt ventured into pottery painting and became renowned as a “china painter”. The 1939 series “Round the studios” by Nan Muirhead Moffat highlighted this facet of Watt’s artistry, further cementing her versatility and dexterity.
A Legacy Cemented
Elizabeth Mary Watt’s association with the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists was a testament to her prowess. Her regular exhibitions alongside Kate Wylie and her eventual win of the Lauder Award in 1947 were not just accolades but also a celebration of her indomitable spirit. Furthermore, her exhibitions at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts and the Royal Scottish Academy bore witness to her widespread acclaim.
There is a growing market for her work, notably in Scotland where most of her work is appearing at auction.