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Alison Watt OBE FRSE RSA (born 1965) is a Scottish painter who first came to national attention while still at college when she won the 1987 Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London.[1][2][3]



Alison Watt. Self-portrait, 1986–87. Oil on canvas, 30.80 x 30.80 cm. Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Alison Watt was born in Greenock, Scotland. She graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1988.[4] While still a student, she came to national attention by winning the 1987 John Player Portrait Award and as a result was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Queen Mother.[5] Her first works to become well known were dryly painted figurative canvases, often female nudes, in light-filled interiors. An exhibition of her work entitled Fold in 1997 at Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery was the first introducing fabric alongside these figures, simultaneously suggesting a debt to the 19th-century French painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, as well as pointing to the possibilities of abstraction.

In 2000 she became the youngest artist to be offered a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art with an exhibition called Shift, with 12 huge paintings featuring fabric alone.(source National Gallery, London) In 2003 Watt was shortlisted for The Jerwood Painting Prize.

Watt exhibited during the Edinburgh Festival 2004, installing a 12 ft painting Still, in the memorial chapel of Old St Paul's Church. Linen bound books were published to commemorate each exhibition. For Still, Alison Watt was awarded the 2005 ACE (Art+Christianity Enquiry) award for 'a Commissioned Artwork in Ecclesiastical Space'.[6]

Her subsequent project 'Dark Light' was supported by her Creative Scotland Award of 2004 from the Scottish Arts Council.[7]

In Summer 2005 she took part in the Glenfiddich residency.

From January 2006 to February 2008, Watt served as the seventh and youngest Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London.[2] She worked within the gallery, and explored an enduring fascination with one particular painting in the collection, Zurbaran's St. Francis in Meditation (1635–9). The work she created in this time was displayed in a solo exhibition called 'Phantom', in the Sunley Room, running from 12 March to 22 June 2008. The same year, she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours.[8]

Watt's work has been widely exhibited. Her paintings are held in many public collections, including The National Portrait Gallery, London, Glasgow Museums, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Scottish Parliament Art Collection, Southampton Art Gallery, The Freud Museum, London, The Fleming Collection, London, The British Council,[9] and The Uffizi Gallery, Florence. In 2012 the Scottish National Portrait Gallery purchased her Self-portrait painting (1986/7) from her private collection for £20,000, to celebrate its re-opening after a refurbishment.[5]

In 2017 Watt was made a Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh.[10]

She is represented by Parafin, London,[11] and Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh.


Pears, 1994.oil on canvas, 152.5 by 180.5 cm. Private collection

Watt's 1986–87 Self-portrait was painted while still a student. She was ill at the time and she depicts herself with her hand across her forehead, as if checking her temperature or perhaps indicating she was feeling faint. Watt has rarely engaged in portraiture since her early career. The painting was presented to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to celebrate its re-opening in 2011.[12]

Pears dates from the 1990s when Watt's work focused on highly realistic nudes posed on drapery. The model used here is one she painted frequently at the time. Pears was offered for sale at a Sotheby's London auction on 18 November 2015.[13]

Since then she has moved away from the nude to portraying the drapery itself.[14]

Solo ExhibitionsEdit

  • 12 March to 22 June 2008 'Phantom', National Gallery, London, UK
  • 17 March – 07 May 2016 'Alison Watt: The Sun Never Knew How Wonderful It Was' – Parafin Gallery, London, UK
  • late 2018 'Alison Watt: A Shadow on the Blind' – Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, UK[14]
  • 24 May – 13 July 2019 'A Shadow on the Blind' – Parafin Gallery, London, UK[14]


  1. ^ "Alison Watt RSA". Royal Scottish Academy. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Alison Watt". National Gallery. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  3. ^ "Alison Watt". Ingleby Gallery. 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  4. ^ "Art review: Alison Watt - Paintings 1986-2014, Perth". The Scotsman. 20 June 2014. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  5. ^ a b Phil Miller (12 April 2012). "Striking Watt painting is first purchase of revamped National Portrait Gallery". The Herald. Scotland. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  6. ^ "Still by Alison Watt". Old Saint Paul's Scottish Episcopal Church. Retrieved 10 December 2013.
  7. ^ "Dark Light". Ingleby Gallery. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  8. ^ 2008 New Year Honours
  9. ^ "Alison Watt paintings" (slideshow). BBC Your Paintings. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  10. ^ The Royal Society of Edinburgh
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ "Alison Watt unveils self-portrait at Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh". ArtDaily.
  13. ^ "Alison Watt: Pears". Sotheby's.
  14. ^ a b c "Alison Watt | A Shadow on the Blind". Retrieved 24 June 2019.

External linksEdit