Watterston Herald painted predominantly in watercolour, working in a very ‘wet’ manner to create atmospheric blots and puddles, within his evocative depictions of rainy city streets, urban parks at dusk, local harbours full masts and the idiosyncratic architecture of the local towns. As an accomplished Scottish watercolourist, Herald is often compared to Arthur Melville, yet his wet technique is quite different and his colours softer and more imaginative, with a restraint, transparency and distinctive palette that is often unrelated to nature.
Once he had established his distinct technique and approach, Watterston Herald consistently produced good quality work throughout his career. He had briefly lived and worked in Croydon in the 1890s and at that point achieved recognition and some success in selling his work, yet in 1901 he returned to Arbroath. He was thus surrounded by his inspiration, and worked well and prolifically, but such distance from urban artistic centres meant he struggled to achieve further success. It seems he looked on this with regret, with his brother writing to a friend after his death, ‘he confessed to me a few days before the close that he had made a “mess” of it,’ and that ultimately he died ‘as simply as he had lived.’ In the hundred years since his death, his talent has been re-evaluated and recognised, as collectors have enjoyed discovering their subtle beauty, considerable technique and evocative spirit.
The sale of the collection of Herald’s from Kirkton House is a true celebration of his work, demonstrating the range of his subject and technique. There are distinctive watercolours of Edinburgh after a rainstorm, many busy Scottish harbours and even evocative scenes of everyday life, with figures spilling out of church in their Sunday best. All the key local towns are represented, as well as some more unusual subjects - a charming work in pencil and pastel of a tender moment between mother and child, and a striking depiction of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Some of the works even reveal an intriguing surprise, with a further watercolour to be found verso. This is particularly unusual when working in watercolour, as it is technically difficult to manage getting the paper wet enough to work with, without affecting the image on the other side - a further hint at the technical skill Watterston Herald possessed and we now have the great pleasure of appreciating.