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Mary Watt Artist

Mary aged six, The Studio, Dedham

A fellow participant at the school was the painter Willie Barns-Graham.    The artistic environment of Mary's upbringing and early acquaintance with many artists of the East Anglian and St Ives scenes left an imprint in terms of the individuality and spirit that placed quite a stamp upon her work and persona. 


During WWII, Mary drew charts for the Admiralty in Bath, in company with illustrator Pauline Baynes.  They struck up an instant friendship which endured despite distance.   After the war, the Watt family moved from St Ives to London where Mary studied for the Royal Academy Schools’ diploma whilst her younger brother George was sent to school at King’s, Canterbury. 


Homelife became ever more concentrated on producing artwork, as this period coincided with her father giving up the drawing of POP in favour of more lucrative work illustrating advertising and periodical work.  He worked from a studio on the top floor of the family home.  

Misomé Péile, fellow student at St Ives.  Watercolour.

Willie Barn-Graham painted by Mary Watt

Mary Watt (1924-2023) was born in Dedham, Essex, the elder of Millar and Amy Watt’s two children.   She showed an artistic inclination from the very earliest age and later attended the newly formed St Ives School of Painting led by Leonard Fuller, before the outbreak of WWII.

Mary Watt Artist
Pauline Baynes working on French Fairy Tales, Bath 1945

Pauline Baynes at work on an illustration at Weston Park.  Pen and ink.

Both Mary and her mother drew inspiration from this hive of industry.  Everything at home was art-practice; everyone and everything a potential subject from visitors to deliveries by the framers’ van.  The family provided models for one and other in quieter moments and the group of portraits produced is a record both of family and evocative of that era of inspiration.

Willie Barns-Graham.  Studio watercolour.  St Ives School of Painting.

Millar Watt painting of his daugher Mary Watt

portraits of Mary aged six, by her father Millar Watt

One of Mary's first commissions upon graduating was from the Kingston Theatre (today the Ward Theatre) in Jamaica, to paint scenery and record life in painting and drawing.   It was in these months that her fascination for botanical study emerged, resulting in a later period of intense work as Visiting Artist at Kew Herbarium.  She painted flowers in less studious ways thereafter, the authenticity of that botanical practice visible nevertheless in her still lifes with plants.

Mary Watt Artist

Jamaica 1952.  Woman carrying. a basket

Mary Watt Art

and twenty years later, by her mother Amy.

Mary Watt Art

Funfair.  London 1948

Mary Watt Artist

Jamaica 1952, Montego Bay swimmers. 

She embarked upon a long career painting portraits which somewhat postponed her calling as an acute observational artist.  Nevertheless, this became the leading characteristic of her work when she moved to North Norfolk.   Mary also worked occasionally on book and periodical illustrations.  Two notable projects were for the childrens’ novel Odd Boy Out by M.E. Buckingham and the delightful cat-tale A Cat Called Hamlet Cat by Sylvia Hodgkins.  

After her mother Amy Watt’s death, Mary accompanied her father to Lavenham in Suffolk where amongst her many artistic projects she painted the proscenium and oval ceiling of the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds, painting upon a scaffold, Michelangelo-fashion.


Cats were a constant presence in Lavenham and later when Mary moved to North Norfolk.  A dynasty of cats and kittens became part of the family.  Last of all was Tinkerbelle, a long-lived beauty who modelled obligingly for yet another body of quick sketches and artworks.

In semi-retirement Mary worked on a vast quantity of paintings, drawings, illlustrative work, quick sketches of Norfolk life, also embarking on painting adventures abroad.  She made many artworks from other media, including sculpture, embroidery and model making.  She made efforts to see current exhibitions in the capital, driving fearlessly into London and beyond in her old Mini and a succession of red and blue cars thereafter.


Mary died in Norfolk, six months short of her centenary.

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