Rare enamel piece with local links added to Aberdeen art collection

  • 19 April 2011

A rare and exquisite portrait made of enamel on copper by Aberdeen-born artist James Cromar Watt has been bought by Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums with support from the Art Fund and the National Fund for Acquisitions.

Portrait of a Young Woman is now on display at Aberdeen Art Gallery, Schoolhill.

James Cromar Watt (1862 – 1940) was an architect, designer, jeweller and enameller who dedicated his life to the promotion of the arts in the North east of Scotland. The majority of his artistic output is associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Dated 1900, this early enamel portrait is a rare and significant addition to the gallery’s collection. Records show that as Cromar Watt’s career progressed he focused mainly on jewellery and occasionally on commissions for ecclesiastical silver and objects such as boxes.

The work depicts a young woman shown in profile against a light blue background, a rose bush in bloom and butterflies. She wears a full-sleeved blouse under a wine coloured tunic with an embroidered yoke, which clearly shows Watt's interest in mediaeval and renaissance periods.

Aberdeen Art Gallery's curator Kate Gillespie said: “This is a very exciting acquisition for Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums. The portrait demonstrates Watt’s proficient use of enamelling techniques and his incredible attention to detail.

"The work is not only significant in terms of its artistic merit, but also for its local connection to Aberdeen. It was imperative that the portrait was returned to the City to join the collection of James Cromar Watt material. We are very grateful to the Art Fund and the National Fund for Acquisitions as it is their support that has made the portrait’s homecoming possible.”

It is understood that this piece was exhibited in one of the Aberdeen Artists' Society exhibitions at Aberdeen Art Gallery in 1900 or 1902. The label on the reverse of the frame, although incomplete, reads, "Aberdeen Artists Society// James Cromar Watt// 71 Dee Street, Aberdeen// Portrait", in Watt's handwriting.

Prior to the piece being acquired by AAGM it belonged to a private collector in America.

See further information on Art Funded