David Waterson Obituary

David Waterson died six months ago in the little city of Brechin where he was born, and where he spent a long life painting and etching the beauty that he saw and sought to share with others as he looked at the ancient town and Angus countryside. 

He studied in the Edinburgh School of Art and could say in later years that he had supported himself by art since at the age of twenty he returned to Brechin.  He became interested in etching, constructed his own press and taught himself the mastery of the difficult technique.  When with diffidence he sent specimens of his work to Sir Seymour Haden, then President of the Royal Society of Painters-Etchers and Engravers: Sir Seymour wrote “Here at last is genius.”  At the Painters-Etchers’ exhibition in Pall Mall in 1901 his contribution caused quite a furore and received much appreciative comment in the press, notably in the Spectator and the Athenaeum.  A little later the British Museum asked him for a portfolio of some seventy etchings of his works for their collection.  He certainly found the door wide open to a London career which would have led to fame and fortune as a portrait painter.

He did indeed win wide recognition.  He had a steady market in Sweden where he worked for a year with the keen interest and friendship of King Gustav.  Nothing, however, distracted him from his purpose to live where he had been bred, and serve art among his own folks.  In a worldly sense, he was a successful painter in that he was able to live by and for his art in modest comfort through a long, quiet yet arduous career.  Seeking only small recompense, he made it possible for all sorts of folk to acquire his pictures, and many a humble home in Brechin is proud to possess one of his etchings or lovely water-colours.

Shortly before he died, the Town Council of Brechin carried out their long-deferred intention to confer on him the Freedom of the City.  As his ability to attend a public ceremony had become doubtful, the Provost and Town Clerk waited upon him to hand him his Burgess Ticket.  He was somewhat taken by surprise, but pleased and proud.  Probably in this seal of his townsmen’s appreciation of his work he felt he received in generous measure all the honour he really cared for.

Besides mezzotint (which he was almost alone in using as a medium for original composition) and etching, he made numbers of very successful coloured etchings, and in water-colour uncounted pictures of delicate beauty.  At one period it became quite a fashion in and around Brechin for those who could afford it to commission a portrait by him.  In the latter part of his career he became interested in script and illumination and in this metier his services were much in demand.  He created the book containing the address from the people of Angus to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, now Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, on the occasion of her marriage to the late King.  He was responsible for the beautiful “Lockit Book” containing the roll of the Freemen of Brechin, a unique volume, said to be the envy of every Scots burgh.  Of the portrait in Brechin Castle of that Lord Dalhousie who was once Governor of Canada, he was requested to make the copy which now hangs in the Government House at Ottawa.

From the time when, as a small boy, he was asked to write on his slate what he wanted to be, and set down the initials P.P., which after much coaxing he explained meant portrait painter, David Waterson’s was a dedicated life.  He used to say that an artist must study nature with a pure and humble mind.  In this he did with incessant toil.  On wet and wintry days when water-colours would not dry, he used chalk with brilliant effect, especially in many snow scenes.

Waterson was absorbed in the constant practice of his art, so that he passed for a quiet shy man uncommitted in other directions.  But he was widely read and keenly concerned about national and local affairs.  His talk was never echoes or quoted opinions, but a flow of original observation and criticism lit up by sparkling and incisive humour.