Joint exhibition of paintings held in trust for the people of Brechin – full transcript of Dr Ian Fallow’s opening address

The Waterson Trust Collection together with the Waterson Memorial Collection

A joint exhibition of paintings and etchings by Brechin artist David Waterson 1870-1954 held in the Brechin Town House Museum and Gallery opened on 24th July 2015 by Dr Ian Fallows from Leeds

May I first of all, since I’m not known to many of you here, just expand a little on the reason why I’m here and how I came to be involved with David Waterson. It all goes back quite a long way. In 1900 James Taggart was appointed the Physics and Mathematics Master at the High School. He married 18 months later Helen Munro, my mother’s sister, who became Mrs Taggart, and in 1903 their daughter Tibby (one of DW’s portraits of her is on display) their first daughter was born.

My mother Mrs Taggart’s sister went to Brechin High School and lived for some years in the Taggart household helping to bring up the children and so on before she herself went to College. In fact Mr Waterson was one of the earliest friends that my uncle and aunt made when they came to live down in Panmure Street. They shared a lot of interests in the arts and literature, my aunt was a very good linguist. In fact her grandson is here standing at the back this evening – Brian Townsend who is just as good a linguist as his granny used to be. They were interested in politics, literature, music and David Waterson shared all these interests with them and it was a friendship which was very deep and lasted for 50 years This is where my original connection with Brechin came from.

My first memory of Brechin in fact was in 1927 when at the age of three I was taken to see my uncle who was very seriously ill and I can still remember him propped up in bed at the time. But since then I have over the years visited Brechin far more times than I can remember and David Waterson himself seems to have been part of my life. I used to meet him with my mother when I was a boy in the street he knew her as Annie; my aunt at one point took us down to see his studio on River Street where he lived, I remember it well.

Apart from that I have other connections with Brechin; I got to know a lot of friends here and in fact the ashes of my son are buried here in the cemetery: so I really have a long connection with Brechin and have many reasons to be thankful for being here having connections and with David Waterson particularly

I would like this evening to say a few words about David Waterson himself. This exhibition put together by the Trustees I think is absolutely wonderful, I was thrilled when I saw it at first this morning in its raw state and I was delighted when I went over to that case there and the first picture I saw was a drawing of my mother.

I would like to talk a little about David Waterson between the years 1902 and 1910, in the Edwardian era, a long time ago, when he was a young man. Many of us these days tend to think of him as an old gentleman with a long black coat and black hat or middle-aged and rather serious but I would like to tell you about him when he was a young man, when he was full of enthusiasm and full of life because in the years just after 1902 he was a constant visitor to the Taggart household.

He used to help my mother who was herself helping to bring up Tibby, their first daughter because, as it happened, in the household at the time, there were quite a few traumatic events; Mrs Taggart’s father had died, she lost a sister and shortly after that she lost a little boy of her own who died in infancy, and during this whole period David Waterson was going to the house regularly.

He often drew Tibby as a little girl; she was a favourite model of his; and he was also drawing my mother and my aunt Mrs Taggart. As a friend he played very much the position that C L Dodgson played in Oxford (the Lewis Carrol of “Alice in Wonderland”) and I have here a little booklet which is one of the books which David Waterson drew for Tibby. This is Tibby’s own book which is a delightful little thing, ten pages of lovely drawings and writings designed to keep a small child happy. David Waterson, in those days, was a family friend who was coming in to help look after the family

A second vignette I would like to give of him is an etching which I have at home of Mrs Taggart herself. This etching shows a lady in an opera house, and it’s very interesting because my aunt told me one time that this was when she was in Paris with David Waterson and her husband; whether David travelled with them or whether they met up in Paris I can’t tell you, but he was certainly with them in the opera house in Paris, they were listening to Tristan and Isolde and there’s a drawing of my aunt in profile with all the people in the background and the circles and tiers of the opera house. The particularly interesting thing about this etching is that we can date it with certainty because my aunt told me that during that week Bleriol had flown the channel. We can pin it down absolutely exactly – that happened in the middle of July 1909

The third little vignette I would like to offer to you is a drawing of my mother. I think he was very fond of my mother; he was something of a lady’s man and the family were rather good-looking – although I say it myself! Now this drawing here is exactly the same as the drawing in the case. It is a slightly different pose but it is of the same person. David Waterson drew my mother on many occasions. On the occasion of her marriage to my father in Brechin some years later he gave her an oil painting as a wedding present. It was of course too big for me to bring up to this exhibition. One thing about this oil painting which has been a favourite of mine all my life which still hangs on the wall down in Yorkshire – it is a painting of a lady with a smile.

You’ve probably heard of the National Gallery in London, called the “Smile-less Gallery” because there are all these Grandees, great men and women of the past, looking down on you with not a smile on any of their faces. But David Waterson is an artist who had the rare skill, able to capture a smile, and if you look at this one (pointing to the portrait of the boy Smart) there’s the trace of a smile and he’s captured a smile on my mother’s portrait. A smile can easily become rigid, frozen, unnatural; David had the skill to avoid that.

I don’t want to talk too much longer but I would like to offer one or two congratulations. The task of gathering together the works of an artist like David Waterson, a master of portraiture, oil painting, watercolours, etching, engraving, illumination, mezzotints, every branch of the visual arts – the task of gathering together and collating and annotating and studying the works of such a prolific artist who after all had lived and done some work of art virtually every day for 75/80 years is vast. Think yourselves of works of people like David Hockney or Picasso; their outputs were huge and the works of David Waterson paintings are similarly very widespread and a huge challenge to catalogue.

I commend the Trust very highly indeed on the work they have done in studying, collecting and researching. But there is much of interest yet to learn. I have here a letter which was written to my aunt in tiny writing, in pencil, in I think 1909 when she was down in Cowes and coming back and meeting David in London on their way back to Scotland. He was himself in London and this gives one or two insights into his world that are quite astonishing. His command of language is marvellous. It’s a racy letter.
It’s slightly flirtatious letter. He says two or three times “my dear Madam” and he talks about booking their cabins for their sea trip from London up to Dundee, because they were coming up by sea, and he booked berths for them all and he said “if you don’t like them I give you permission to kick me on the wharf” and he says at another point, something like, “I must go now because I have to get back home and send six pictures to Sweden immediately” and he underlines immediately.

The connection between Scandinavia as a whole and the Scottish literary and artistic world in the nineteenth century is very interesting. I understand it goes back to the days when Scottish warriors fought in Norway and Sweden some were ennobled by the Swedish and reached positions of power and influence in the Swedish and their descendants in the nineteenth century looked back at Scotland. John has mentioned to me that he has done some research in Sweden about David Waterson’s paintings but I believe that there must be a lot more there still to be found and that some where there will be another cache of David Waterson’s works, I hope some day that members of the Trust may be able to track them down.

Now I’ve talked quite long enough. May I express on behalf of the public in general our thanks to the Trust and all who have been associated with this exhibition – members of the Council, the Angus Council as who had their share in things and everyone who has been concerned with it. To all the donors and people who have contributed, thank you very much.

Finally, in declaring this exhibition officially open may I simply say to you all, “let us enjoy once more this feast of art put before us and let us all remember with gratitude the work of David Waterson.” Thank you all very much for coming.

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