William Ernest Maurice Fletcher 1924–1983

William Fletcher was a Sydney-based artist, best remembered for his paintings of Australian wildflowers.

The artist William Fletcher painting on the verandah of his home

William Fletcher on the verandah of his Church Point home, 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 wildflowers, 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).

The art of William Fletcher

William Fletcher painted cityscape, figurative, and wildflower studies. He is represented in the collections of the Australian National Gallery, SH Ervin Gallery of the National Trust, Newcastle Regional Gallery, Rockhampton Gallery, the Royal Botanic Gardens (Sydney), Australian government collections such as that in the Australian Parliament House, Canberra, and in major private and corporate collections such as the Murdoch (News Limited) Collection and the Ken Hinds Collection (Queensland).

In the estimation of many, he is one of the finest painters of Australian wildflowers this country has produced, combining botanical accuracy of detail with groupings and settings that are evocative of the harsh conditions of bush and desert, in paintings marked by their draughtsmanship and fine colour.

Several are in private collections in Australia and overseas. As cherished, evocative and colourful paintings of a domestic genre, their public appearance is a relative rarity. It is anticipated that the few remaining wildflower paintings of the Fletcher estate will be released over the next few years and that the relative rarity of Fletcher’s beautiful wildflower studies will generate greater interest.

By 2006, 488 known works by William Fletcher have been confirmed. A total of 256 are Australian wildflower studies, 83 are figurative (including rodeo and circus), 70 are streetscapes, 56 involve traditional flower groups and still life studies and the remaining 23 involve abstract, fantasy or religious subjects.

See a selection of William Fletcher’s artworks

List of exhibitions 1949–2006

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 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.