Mark Watson (1906-1979)
Hon. Richard Mark Watson was born in Yorkshire, England on July 18, 1906. The youngest of four sons of Joseph Watson, 1st Baron Manton, Watson and his family divided their time between a large farm in Scotland, a summer house in Austria, and a house in London. He studied at Eton College before informally pursuing his interest in art on the Continent. During the early 1930s he worked at the British Embassies in Washington, D.C. and Paris.
It was during his youth that Watson began what would become a lifetime of affection for, and patronage of, Icelandic culture. As a young boy, Watson “dreamt about adventure in Iceland, its beauty and ancient renown. I started writing to the post office director in Reykjavik. He was so nice as to send me various postcards that later became my first collection of photos from Iceland.” In 1937 Watson traveled there for the first time, his photographs being exhibited in London. He also returned the following year, riding through the countryside on horseback and recording a movie which was later screened at the Icelandic Section of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. His significant donation toward the conservation of Glaumbær (traditional Icelandic turf houses) earned him an honorary membership in the Icelandic Archeological Society at the young age of thirty-two.
During World War II, Watson served as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. His fluency in French and German, combined with his knowledge of art, earned him a position with the British MFAA. Stationed in Salzburg and Tanzenburg, Austria, he worked alongside Monuments Men Maj. John F. Hayward and Maj. R. A. Skelton, a personal friend. Watson remained involved with the British MFAA until 1947, when he began a career as an antiques dealer in New York. He returned to England in 1958, continuing his work with antiques in London and maintaining a farm in Yorkshire for a number of years.
Watson contributed to the conservation of Icelandic cultural heritage in many ways. He became a world-renowned expert on Icelandic culture, making several return trips and amassing an impressive collection of art and books. He donated more than 100 watercolors by W. G. Collingwood to the National Museum of Iceland as well as over one thousand books, including a complete, 24-volume edition of the works of William Morris, to the National Library of Iceland. His very successful efforts to breed Icelandic sheepdogs in both the United States and England may have saved the breed from extinction. He exported Icelandic dogs and horses to his California farm, Wensum Kennel, and founded the first veterinary hospital in Iceland in 1973. For his extraordinary services to Iceland, Watson was made an Honorary Founding Member of The Icelandic Kennel Club and decorated with the Icelandic Order of the Falcon.
Mark Watson died in London on March 12, 1979. Following his death, one historian remarked, “I have never met a man of foreign origin that loved Iceland, both the land and the people, as faithfully as he did.”