WALSH, Alfred Wilson
Alfred Wilson Walsh was born at Kyneton, Victoria, Australia, in 1859, the son of William Walsh, a Captain in the Army, and Catherine, née Wilson. He came to New Zealand as a child and was educated at Dunedin, where his parents had settled. On leaving school he became a draughtsman with the Public Works Department and studied drawing and painting in his spare time with David Hutton, Principal of the School of Art, Dunedin. So marked was his progress that he achieved a considerable reputation as an artist by the time he was 27 years of age. In 1886 he joined the teaching staff of the Christchurch School of Art as second master and was a member of the Council of the Canterbury Art Society for 10 years. He left Christchurch in 1912 and settled at Parnell, Auckland, and then latterly at Tauranga, where he died on 10 September 1916, aged 57.
On 4 March 1914, at St. Mark's Church, Remuera, Auckland, Walsh married Emily Conolly, daughter of Edmond Tennyson Conolly, Judge of the Supreme Court. There was no issue.
Walsh received practically no formal training in art. He worked mainly in North Canterbury and Westland and, on resigning from teaching after 20 years' service, devoted his whole time to painting. He never travelled abroad. He avoided the romantic and popular aspects of the New Zealand scene, his output was limited, and he worked almost entirely in watercolour. Yet he stands out as an artist of very rare quality whose lasting worth becomes more and more recognised. He succeeded in capturing the spirit of New Zealand without resorting to any of the obvious devices, and his watercolours are rich in feeling but never sentimental.
Walsh's work is distinguished from that of his contemporaries by his purity and clarity of colour, the directness of his touch, and an unique ability to translate each passage of his composition into a personal and vital idiom. To try to analyse his technique would be like pinning down a butterfly, for Walsh was, as Constable would have put it, a natural painter.
Many of his finest watercolours are in private collections, and they rarely appear on the market. The most important in the National Gallery collection, Wellington, are his “Alpine Stream, Otira” (22 in. × 16 in.) and “Kaikoura Coast” (8 in. × 13 in.). There is also “Mountain Stream, Kaikoura” (11½ in. 15 in.), “Wellington Harbour” (9 in. × 12 in.), “Coastal Scene” (11 in. × 15 in.), and “Landscape” (9½ 13 in.). The Robert McDougall Gallery, Christchurch, has “Low Tide”, “In the Otira”, and “Greymouth Harbour”.
The New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts staged an exhibition of his work in 1926.
by Stewart Bell Maclennan, A.R.C.A.(LOND.), Director, National Art Gallery, Wellington.