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Wendy Walsh (1915-2014) – Obituary from The Irish Times

Wendy F. Walsh   Doctor in Litteris


Born: April 9th 1915

Died: March 3rd 2014


The world of botanical art lost its finest and most distinguished artist with the recent death of Wendy Walsh, at the age of 98. Wendy was born in Cumbria, England, and was educated at home. As a fourteen year old, she read Gray’s Anatomy and several other books on comparative anatomy; kept a meticulous nature notebook and loved riding her pony every day. She received no formal training in art and described herself as an “unorthodox artist”. She taught herself by drawing and painting squares, and learning about colours and what they did, so that she could look at her subjects, be they animals or plants, and know precisely what colours would be required to recapture them. She always maintained Ireland offered the most beautiful light for painting anywhere in the world.  In her own words, “It has something to do with how things look right after a rain shower has passed and the sun comes out. The light then is so sharp and dazzling; it brings everything into focus and helps me to be so accurate with detail.” She remembered painting a Labrador on a rainy day when she was on her maiden holiday in Valencia Island in 1938.


She started drawing at six years of age and continued to do so throughout her long life. At no stage in her life, her deep love and enthusiasm for drawing and painting diminished and painting remained the love of her life. Nevertheless, she did not draw or paint on a regular basis when her children were growing up because her children needed her undivided love, attention and time.


Having married, travelled and lived in Japan, Singapore and the USA, Wendy moved with her husband John to Lusk, north County Dublin almost fifty years ago. She has devoted her time ever since to producing the most outstanding botanical illustrations.


irish florilegium

Botanical art is an extremely demanding discipline, because every single detail has to be absolutely right and at the same time paint a perfect picture and have the ability to paint in watercolours.”  It was a pleasure to watch Wendy at work in her studio. Blessed with excellent powers of concentration, very good eyesight, and an enviable, all important steady hand, Wendy moved that brush with absolute precision to get it right the first time – therein lay her extraordinary ability to give ‘life’ to a stem, leaf, bud or flower on a paper. Her main advice to young botanical artists was to love what they are doing, enjoy solitude, strict discipline, and be able to sacrifice many other things in their lives to produce the best pictures. Wendy believed in an innate ability to draw and paint, and has enjoyed giving classes on drawing and painting.


Indeed, it was that innate ability and deep-seated love for drawing and painting that enabled Wendy to be associated with numerous publications, particularly during the past three decades. She worked closely with Dr E. Charles Nelson, formerly taxonomist at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin on two volumes of An Irish Florilegium – Wild and Garden Flowers of Ireland, which were published in 1983 and 1987. Other publications in collaboration with Dr Nelson included An Irish Flower Garden Replanted (1984) – a collection of botanical portraits using Chinese inks and watercolours, A Prospect of Irish Flowers (1990), The Burren: a companion to the wildflowers of Ireland’s limestone wilderness (1991), Trees of Ireland: Native and Naturalized (1993) and Flowers of Mayo (1995). Wendy’s work also included illustrations for a history of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, and contributions to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine.


Wendy’s major works were in watercolour – her favourite medium – and her numerous botanical illustrations have substantially enriched the literature on native plants of Ireland.


Her earliest paintings (1975) of a series of kaue, the floral head-dresses worn by people of Gilbert and Ellis Islands on special occasions were reproduced on stamps issued in 1978 by the Gilbert Islands (now, Kiribati). She also received commissions from the Department of Post and Telegraphs (now, An Post) which included a series of sets of stamps and first day covers celebrating native plants and animals from 1979 – 1986.


Trees of Ireland by Wendy Walsh and Charles Nelson

Wendy enjoyed her trips to the natural habitats with Dr Nelson, in search of native Irish flowers to paint. She loved the bogs and plants in the wild. As much as Wendy loved drawing and painting plants from their natural habitats, she was equally happy and content to paint garden plants and flowers. However, she did not go round her garden looking for subjects to paint, she waited for them to find her.  She was not a painter in her garden; rather she loved being a gardener and got on with gardening jobs. Cooking and housework were her least favourite chores because they took up too much of her drawing and painting time. Incidentally, she always drew and painted by daylight. She maintained electric light ruins the eyesight, and her eyesight had not deteriorated since her fifty-fourth birthday.


Wendy’s work has been exhibited in London, USA (Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Pittsburgh), Melbourne, South Africa and many times in Ireland. She regularly showed her work at the Watercolour Society of Ireland exhibitions at the Town Hall in Dun Laoghaire.


Wendy’s outstanding botanical illustrations brought her many well-deserved national and international awards and honours. In 1997 Trinity College, University of Dublin awarded her an Honorary Degree and a year later, she was made an Honorary Life member of the Royal Dublin Society. She received many gold and silver gilt medals from the Royal Horticultural Society (UK) and their Medal of Honour in 1996. She was also the recipient of the Alpine Society Gold Award in 1991 and 1993 and a gold medal from the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland.


In April 2005 a set of four hellebore prints was issued to celebrate her ninetieth birthday. These signed and numbered limited edition prints reached all corners of the world. Wendy’s set of eight clematis paintings were exhibited at the International Clematis Society Conference (Dublin City University) in July 2006.


While most appreciative of the many awards for her work, Wendy, a distinguished botanical artist and illustrator continued to draw and paint with passion and ever- increasing enthusiasm, primarily for her own pleasure, in her home in Burtown, Athy, Co. Kildare. A mother, grandmother and great grandmother, Wendy enjoyed the company of young people and was full of admiration of remarkable creative and artistic abilities of her children and grand children.

Her singular regret was not publishing a book of drawings and paintings of floral head- dresses worn on special occasions by people of Kiribati.


An incredibly gifted and talented woman Wendy felt truly blessed and enjoyed her long life to the full in her home, garden, studio and with her family. Wendy is survived by her daughters Lesley, Anna, son Michael and grand and great grand children.