Wilmotte Williams Centenary Retrospective

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Wilmotte Williams Centenary Retrospective Celebration 2016

Wilmotte Williams Centenary Retrospective Celebration 2016

Wilmotte Williams was my mother. She was born in Sydney on November 30 1916, into a pioneering family. Next year, 2016, marks the centenary of her birth. So throughout 2016 we will celebrate her talents & achievement with a Centenary Retrospective. Her paintings were awarded many prizes & commendations. They are prized by owners who have enjoyed them for up to 60 years. They have been bought for collections across Australia & around the world.

In total, 100 will be on exhibition in venues across Sydney. They are as alive and vibrant now, as they were when painted in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s. These 100 paintings will provide an exciting artistic apercus of her lifelong passion for painting! They will be representative of her 5 favourite themes:

Sydney, Unseen
Kids, Clowns & Flowers
Sydney Street Scenes
Rural & Rustic
Harbor & Beaches

Passionate and pioneering she was indeed; dedicated & driven, too. In fact, she was still painting on the day she died in May 1992 – way too soon! She was still painting well enough to receive yet another “Highly Commended” for her entry in the 1992 Sydney Royal Easter Show.


When you google ‘Wilmotte Williams’, 10 or so entries appear – all from art auction houses, such as Christies, offering her Sydney ‘Street Scenes’. Yes, she was famously popular for them, but that’s just part of the story. Nowhere in the auction lists will you find the other subjects she loved. Those are subjects unfamiliar to the public, but for which she is entitled to a unique place in the history & heart of Sydney’s & Australia’s art.

Although best known for these ‘Paddington’ street scenes, Wilmotte, or ‘Billie’ as she was affectionately known, was extremely versatile. She adored painting children – her grandchildren were her favourites. She painted flowers – waratahs, bottle brush, daisies & sunflowers. She had an affinity for old buildings, especially those she heard were to be demolished – the QVB. Billie loved the bush & country scenes – ‘The Big Hill at Carcoar’, where Kurt Fearnley hails from. Still life studies started her career. Her first painting was of fruit & flowers on our dining room table.

Of course she savoured Sydney’s harbor & beaches – Bondi, Manly, The Bridge & the Opera House. She even delighted in combining her subjects to great effect – ‘Harbor & Flowers’. Billie Williams is unique in the history of the Sydney art scene. She was a pioneer of the charity art show movement. She was also one of the very few artists who made a full time living from selling her paintings. Most importantly she was one of the first ‘conservation’ artists. If Billie heard or read that a building was about to be demolished or renovated, or the streetscape changed, she went & painted it to preserve it for posterity. She painted the first outdoor café in Macquarie Street the day after it opened!

Billie loved Sydney & she loved its history. She was a pioneer in the Sydney art scene; & she was indeed born into a pioneering family.

Her great grandfather John Philip Deane arrived in Hobart from England in 1822. He & his family were versatile, talented musicians, & entrepreneurs. They were pioneers in marketing books, musical instruments & concerts in both Hobart & Sydney in the 1830’s & 40’s. In fact, J.P.D. introduced Australia to chamber music.

Like her great grandfather before her, Billie was a pioneer in marketing. In the late 1950’s her brother-in-law was the newly appointed boss of Sydney’s St Vincents. The Hospital needed funds. Billie & her mostly female art buddies, needed venues & opportunities to show their paintings. They weren’t part of the Sydney art ‘establishment’, & there were few galleries interested in ‘amateurs’. Undeterred, she & her mates put their show together. Their success helped pioneer the charity art show movement in Sydney.

In the 60’s, charity art shows & private galleries proliferated. Billie marketed her work to her public through both. By 1970 she owned her own Paddington studio. Still, she wasn’t accepted into the establishment, despite her stunning & sustained sales success. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, she continued to paint every day, and sell her paintings on a nearly daily basis.

There were other artists though, who couldn’t sell any! Artists who are revered today, & enjoy godlike status. Back in the 60’s, they had to take other jobs to pay the bills, or rely on their wives.

Being very successful in any field has its drawbacks, as well as its rewards. There was envy; there was jealousy; there was an ongoing downplaying of her talent.

She kept painting & selling. Some said she sold so many because she had low prices. She always said she wanted to keep her work affordable, but there is evidence that in suburban shows her paintings were in fact the most expensive: eg the Auburn Annual Art Show from 1965 – 1985.

Andy Warhol could have had Wilmotte Williams in mind when he wrote –

Andy Warhol Quote

Billie also did her bit to help pioneer the conservation movement. She was a spirited & successful conservation artist. When she heard that a building was to be demolished, she went & painted it, like the QVB; or newly constructed like the Qantas or AMP buildings; even the Kings Cross Fountain, or the units at Bondi next to the Icebergs.

Hence her history of Sydney is ours to enjoy & admire today – a history from the early 50s to the early 90s. It is the Sydney our parents & grandparents knew & loved. We have Billie to thank that we can still enjoy our ‘Old Sydney’; and so too can our children & grandchildren. We can also all learn about the history of the Sydney we love.

We have this legacy because Wilmotte Williams was dedicated, diligent, passionate & pioneering. She painted every day for nearly 40 years. She probably completed up to 14,000 paintings. If she’d been a man though, she often said, she would have been far more productive! I know there would have been more. Many didn’t survive her ‘quality control’. If she didn’t like one, it went in the reject bin to be burned ‘up the back’. As my old school friend remarked at the first retrospective in 1994, “How many more would there be if we didn’t burn all those she told us to!” Some of Sydney’s history up in smoke indeed!But luckily we do have enough, enough to show in one or more venues, every week of the 2016 year.

We have paintings to show you from this bygone era
Baby boomers will remember & they can tell their grandchildren. Their surviving parents may remember.

The Wilmotte Williams Centenary Retrospective Celebration is your Passport to Sydney & its recent history

Shout your kids & grandkids to a trip down memory lane. They will be impressed that you know –

Why Sydney’s named Sydney
Why ‘The Rocks’ are called ‘The Rocks’?
What ‘Bondi’ means
Why Manly’s, Manly
Who built the Bridge
Who designed the Opera House

And if you need to jog your memory, we’ve got the clues to help you. All because, as they say, a picture is worth a 1000 words. We will have pictures, 100 beauties! We have them because a woman known as Billie had the pioneering passion to paint the Sydney she loved.

Yes, Andy Warhol knew Wilmotte Williams’ spirit, even if he didn’t know her or her work, as Vincent Price & other famous art lovers did.

She did indeed have the tenacity & the talent “to make even more art while others decided if they hated or loved it”!