Donald Watson – wildlife artist

Donald Watson – wildlife artist

The acclaimed artist Donald Watson (1918-2005), after whom the Gallery at Waterston House is named, was born in Surrey but lived in Edinburgh after his father’s death in 1931. His art and interest in birds commenced in early childhood. While at Edinburgh Academy he met former pupil George Waterston who enrolled him in the Midlothian Ornithologists’ Club and both were founder members of the SOC in 1936.

The Old Light, Isle of May © Watson family

The Old Light, Isle of May © Watson family

He first visited the Isle of May in 1933, where he met the misses Baxter and Rintoul. After gaining a degree at Oxford University in 1940, he joined the army and saw active service in Burma where he continued to paint. He returned home in 1946 and was invited by Arthur Duncan to stay at his home in Dumfriesshire and undertake a series of paintings of birds in their habitats. Thus began Donald’s career as a wildlife artist and from 1949 onwards he exhibited regularly in galleries in Scotland and England.

Donald painting on the Isle of May, Fife © Photographer unknown

Donald painting on the Isle of May, Fife © Photographer unknown

He married Joan Moore in 1950 and they moved to live in St John’s Town of Dalry where they raised four children. He was commissioned to illustrate all British bird species in The Oxford Book of Birds (1964) and his paintings featured in many books thereafter, written by him and others.

A brood of Hen Harrier almost fully fledged, 1959 © Watson family. Published in 'One Pair of Eyes', cover picture and p67

A brood of Hen harriers almost fully fledged, 1959 © Watson family. Published in ‘One Pair of Eyes’, cover picture and p67

Perhaps he will be best remembered for his special love of the Hen Harrier, which he studied and painted in Galloway for many years and about which he wrote a definitive monograph published by Poyser in 1977. His writings were every bit as evocative as his paintings, in which landscapes and (especially) cloudscapes were depicted as successfully as his bird subjects.

Eiders in Atlantic gale, Benbecula 1950 © Watson family. Published in 'One Pair of Eyes', p.15

Eiders in Atlantic gale, Benbecula 1950 © Watson family. Published in ‘One Pair of Eyes’, p.15

The SOC holds eleven paintings by Watson (as photographed here by Steve Cox). Three were reproduced in his autobiographical One Pair of Eyes, published by Arlequin in 1994. He was both a President and Honorary President of the Club and was local bird recorder for Galloway for some 30 years. His son Jeff Watson (1952-2007) followed in his father’s footsteps and was renowned for his research and books on the Golden Eagle.

A pair of Ospreys with three grown young, 1959 © Watson family. This was the first successful breeding at Loch Garten after the species' return to Scotland. The picture was hanging on the wall of the Club Library when Lord Wemyss formally opened the new SOC HQ at Regent Terrace in 1959.

A pair of Ospreys with three grown young, 1959 © Watson family. This was the first successful breeding at Loch Garten after the species’ return to Scotland. The picture was hanging on the wall of the Club Library when Lord Wemyss formally opened the new SOC HQ at Regent Terrace in 1959.

 © Scotsman

© Scotsman

Northern Golden Plover and Pinkfeet, Fala 1965. Published in 'One Pair of Eyes', p.87 © Watson family

Northern Golden Plover and Pinkfeet, Fala 1965. Published in ‘One Pair of Eyes’, p.87 © Watson family

Whitefronts in a marsh © Watson family

Whitefronts in a marsh © Watson family

Shelduck, Aberlady (April, 1962?) © Watson family

Shelduck, Aberlady (April, 1962?) © Watson family

Grey Heron, Greenshanks and gulls, Peffer Burn, Aberlady © Watson family

Grey Heron, Greenshanks and gulls, Peffer Burn, Aberlady © Watson family

Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock (?), 1961 © Watson family

Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock (?), 1961 © Watson family

Widgeon and Goldeneye © Watson family

Widgeon and Goldeneye © Watson family

Tawny Owl in a tree, 1956 © Watson family

Tawny Owl in a tree, 1956 © Watson family