Betty Temple Watts (1901–1992) had exceptional powers of observation and a gift for capturing the quintessential nature of birds—their behaviour, character and colour. Her watercolours fill the pages of numerous articles and books, and even feature on a set of stamps. She first developed an interest in birds in her thirties, while living in Persia with her husband; however, it was not until she was 48, and settled in Melbourne, that she decided to go, in her words, ‘all out on birds’. Betty spent much of her time practising drawing, but was constantly critical of the results. In spite of her harsh self-judgement, others had a high opinion of her skill and, in 1952, she received her first commission, going on to provide bird illustrations for publications until she was in her late eighties.
Thirty-four of Betty’s watercolour plates of birds are held by the National Library of Australia. All 34 plates have been reproduced in The Quintessential Bird with many individual birds reproduced in glorious detail. Viola Temple Watts, wife of Betty’s son Stephen, has written the short introductory biography, which allows readers a glimpse into Betty’s joyous world of birds.