Thu | May 23, 2019

National Gallery remembers Barrington Watson

Published:Friday | January 29, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Barrington Watson's 'Mother and Child' (1958-59).
Barrington Watson's 'Washerwomen' (1966),
Barrington Watson (right) signs autographs in 2011.

The National Gallery of Jamaica has said that it is deeply saddened by the news that Jamaica master artist Professor Barrington Watson O.J., passed away on January 26 at 85 years old.

Watson was born in Hanover, Jamaica, in 1931. He was educated at the prestigious Royal College of Art in London and attended several other major European art academies, including the AcadÈmie de la Grande ChaumiËre in Paris and the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam. He returned to Jamaica in 1961 and quickly rose to prominence as a major artist in post-Independence Jamaica.

Along with Eugene Hyde and Karl Parboosingh, he established the Contemporary Jamaican Artists' Association in 1964 and was, from 1962 to 1966, the first director of studies at the Jamaica School of Art (now part of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts), where he introduced the full-time diploma programme. He subsequently also acted as a visiting professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, USA.

Watson chaired the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) art collection in the mid-1970s and operated several art galleries. Among them were Gallery Barrington, which has existed in several incarnations since 1974, and the Contemporary Art Centre, which was active from 1985 to 1998.

His home in Orange Park, St Thomas, is recognised as a heritage site. It is part of a former coffee plantation and has, since he bought the property in 1969, served as the location of his main studio and a meeting place for artists and art lovers. Watson left Orange Park to the nation in 1994.


Essentially an academic realist, Watson explored a wide range of themes and genres in his work, including history painting, genre, portraits and self-portraits, nudes, erotica, the landscape and the still life, ranging from the intimate to the epic and all interpreted with his unique painterly sensibility. He insisted on being recognised as an artist first and as a Jamaican artist second. Still, most of his paintings were inspired by Jamaica and its people, and he produced some of the most iconic images in Jamaican art history such as Mother and Child (1958-59) and Conversation (1981), which are in the National Gallery of Jamaica Collection.

Although he is best known as a painter, Watson was also an accomplished draughtsman and printmaker.

He executed several major commissions, including the mural The Garden Party (1975) and the installation Trust (1975, with Cecil Baugh) at the BOJ, and the mural Our Heritage (1974) at Olympia in Kingston. He executed many official portraits, including those of past prime ministers of Jamaica, of Martin Luther King (1970) at Spelman College, and of former Commonwealth Secretary-General and UWI Chancellor Sir Shridath Ramphal at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona (1992) and Marlborough House in London (1995).

His work is well represented in the National Gallery of Jamaica Collection, with masterworks such as Mother and Child (1958-59), Washerwomen (1966), Athlete's Nightmare II (1966), Conversation (1981), and Fishing Village (1996). Watson is featured in many other public, corporate, and private collections in Jamaica and internationally.


Watson received many awards and accolades during his lifetime. These include the national orders the Order of Distinction, Commander Class, in 1984; the Order of Jamaica in 2006; and the Institute of Jamaica's Gold Musgrave Medal in 2000. The National Gallery of Jamaica honoured him with a major retrospective in 2012, which was curated by then chief curator Dr David Boxer and guest curator Claudia Hucke and presented as part of the National Gallery's Jamaica 50 programme.

The National Gallery's chairman, Peter Reid, lauded Watson for his outstanding contribution to the development of Jamaican art, as an eminent artist and art educator, and as a role model to many artists in Jamaica, the Caribbean and the African Diaspora. He stated, "Barrington is a true national icon and we will treasure his artistic legacy for many generations to come."

The National Gallery's executive director, Dr Veerle Poupeye, added, "Barrington Watson was a defining figure in post-Independence Jamaican art, and his work reflects the spirit and imagination of independent Jamaica. He was instrumental in the professionalisation of the Jamaican art world and an outspoken and influential voice in the development of modern art in Jamaica."

Watson served on the National Gallery board for several years.

The National Gallery of Jamaica also extended its heartfelt condolences to Watson's widow, Doreen; children Janice, Raymond, Basil, Bright; and Shauna-Kay; and his other family members and friends.