Good Weekend Art Column

Deirdre Bean – Stella Downer Fine Art , Sydney

Published March 7, 2019
Deirdre Bean, Parrotfish and chopsticks 2019, watercolour on vellum 27 x 37 cm

Artist: Deirdre Bean

Lives: Maryville, Newcastle

Age: 59 (by one day!)

Represented by: Stella Downer Fine Art (Mitchell Fine Art, Brisbane)

Her thing. Immaculately detailed still life paintings, made with the tiniest of brushes

Our take. For the past two decades Deirdre Bean has been making botanical art with a devotion to mangroves that borders on compulsion. Only recently did she realise that her work holds an appeal for all kinds of people, not just the gardeners. A trip to Gallipoli with a group of artist friends prompted her to paint rifles and other relics of the battlefields. Soon Bean had transcended the ‘botanical’ label and become a bona fide fine artist.

Her show, Fish and other things, at Stella Downer Fine Art, brings together 16 recent still life pictures. For Bean this is a big effort because her methods are so slow and painstaking. There’s simply no way to rush a work when you’re using a one-hair brush. She approaches each watercolour like a medieval monk illuminating a precious manuscript. To complete the analogy she has taken to using vellum as well as paper. What’s vellum? It’s specially prepared calf skin imported from the UK that was used for books in those days before the printing press. Bean says it gives her work a luminosity that can’t be achieved on paper.

Perhaps it’s the vellum, but these paintings have a vibrancy rarely found in natural history illustration. They are still crossover works, edging their way into the contemporary art market, but even the most cutting-edge art collectors would have to acknowledge their quality.

Can I afford it?

If Bean charged labourer’s rates for the hours she spends on these pictures she would be a wealthy woman. Alas, because art is never valued in this way, they are remarkably inexpensive. The highest priced work is a watercolour on paper, Bracken fern and cicada (65cm by 50cm), at $4,800. The cheapest works are two small watercolours on vellum, Pyrus ssp (Pear) and Pyrus communis ‘William’ (William pear) (both 16.5cm by 12cm) at a modest $1,200.

Where can I have a squiz?

Stella Downer Fine Art, 1/24 Wellington Street, Waterloo, Sydney, 5-30 March,


Published in Good Weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald, 23 March 2019