William Ernest Maurice Fletcher 1924–1983

William Fletcher in the RAN
William Fletcher, Church Point, 1969

William Fletcher was born at Bellbird, in the Hunter Valley, on 27 October 1924. Leaving the town at the age of 18 to join the Royal Australian Navy, he saw active service in the Pacific for four years until his discharge in 1946. He settled in a Stanley Street terrace (East Sydney) and studied at East Sydney Technical College and the Julian Ashton Art School between 1946 and 1952. He painted inner-city streetscapes, but also floral studies, which sold well in the Eastern Suburbs boutiques.

In 1954 Fletcher moved to Pittwater, where he lived a reclusive life for the rest of his short life. Initially he stayed at the Barrenjoey lighthouse and began painting Australian wildflowers. Later he moved to the Pittwater side of Newport. For one year, 1961, he travelled with Sorlie’s tent show, sketching circus scenes.

In 1965 the house and studio at Church Point became his permanent home, from which he made several sketching trips to the bush around Sydney, the Snowy Mountains, and to Central Australia to sketch the wildflowers.

In 1977 Fletcher spent four months in England and Europe, including a tour of Greece. In 1978 he began a series of silkscreen prints, including wildfowers, circus scenes and still life.

William Fletcher died suddenly of an asthma attack at his Church Point (Sydney) home, on 22 January 1983. Fletcher’s estate contained many previously unexhibited paintings and drawings.

His cardiac and asthma problems over many years, his reclusiveness and perfectionism all militated against his holding many major one-man exhibitions. During Fletcher’s lifetime he exhibited in Canberra, Sydney (Artarmon) and Adelaide.

There have been three major posthumous exhibitions of Fletcher’s work: Artarmon Galleries (1983), Rex Irwin Galleries (Woollahra, 1985) and Australian Galleries (Paddington, 2006).

Critical acclaim

John Brackenreg OBE, then director of Artarmon Galleries, who was a supporter of the artist during Fletcher’s last and most productive years, provided a foreword to the study of the artist which was written and published by Trevor Andersen in 1983. Brackenreg commented that Fletcher’s subjects were ‘beautifully drawn and rendered with infinite patience and love’.

Lloyd Rees, who visited an exhibition of Fletcher’s work at Artarmon Galleries, remarked that the apparent naturalism of the works was deceptive, for Fletcher’s painting was ‘an abstraction from nature and not a mere imitation of it’.

Elwyn Lynn (Art and Australia, vol 21 no. 4, June 1984), referred to Fletcher’s mysterious and haunting use of colour and the imaginative way in which he mingled precision in treatment of species with ‘baroque accumulations’ of flora.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, wildflower paintings were released by the executor of the Fletcher estate and auctioned at major auction houses, achieving pleasing prices. As Fletcher’s wildflower paintings were produced in the later years of his career and are few in number, their appearance in exhibitions and auction rooms has been infrequent.

The William Fletcher Trust/Foundation

In 1985 Trevor Andersen established the William Fletcher Trust, which has continued through his personal donations, those of other generous individuals, and the proceeds of the sale of works from the Fletcher estate, to assist young Australian artists of outstanding merit, especially those experiencing financial difficulties during their final years of tertiary training.

The 2006 exhibition at the Australian Galleries celebrated 20 years of the work of The William Fletcher Trust and the incorporation of the Trust into the William Fletcher Foundation. This incorporation followed a handsome bequest from Dr Matheson Lines of Mosman, NSW, a friend of the artist and supporter of the work of the Trust.

For this exhibition, a second book on the artist’s work, William Ernest Fletcher (1924–1983): Australian Wildflowers, Still Life and Streetscapes, was published by the William Fletcher Foundation in 2006.