portrait of jean playfair


Jean Playfair Agard Evans was born in Kelso, southern Scotland, in 1872 and died in 1956 leaving us around 1000 watercolours.

She described her life in her diaries, her travelogues, her written reminiscences and her short stories.   She portrayed her life through her paintings.




Hudson River, New York, 1936

Jean Playfair travelled extensively, criss-crossing Europe often at different historical periods, even crossing the Atlantic Ocean to North America. She painted what she saw in watercolours wherever she went.


Florence, 1884



Her very first watercolours, painted when she was only twelve years old included a painting of arches in Florence. She showed it to Albert Anker, a well known Swiss painter and father of one of her school friends. He was most impressed and told her she had excellent “perspective techniques”. She did not really know what he meant but she accepted his guidance.


Albert Anker House, 1917


Jean Playfair a lady of character, a mountain climber, a business builder, open to novelty development and the future. The unique collection includes picture of many famous resorts, mountains, glaciers, lakes, sea views, cities, monuments, garden and typical scenes.


Autumn Lake, 1934


Jean Playfair fell in love with the Alps, she was only eight years old and had conjured up “Heidi-like” images of mountains, pine trees and green pastures.





Her family settled in Zurich and from there she first saw real alpine scenery. From Zurich holidays involved crossing the Alps into Italy where they spent months on the Italian coast in Livorno, Bagni di Lucca and Antignano. It was in Livorno that, in 1890 she met and married her husband, Ernest Agard Evans with whom she had two boys, Hellier and Archibald.





Ernest was an Englishman who also loved the Alps and had set up his own company producing exclusive travel guides to promote the beauty of the Alps to the English. He was an enthusiastic mountaineer and, with him she lived her dream.


Hotel Beau Rivage, Ouchy, Lausanne, 1904


She climbed summits, travelled from resort to resort evaluating hotels and their services. She took her paint brushes wherever she went and never failed to paint whatever took her fancy.



Travelogue, Norway 1894-1895



In January 1894 they went to Norway for the first time. It was partially a business trip but also an adventure. There they saw skiing and sledging and realised  the potential of winter sports in the Alps. In 1901 they returned to Norway where she painted profusely.




Shortly after returning from Norway the couple settled in Lausanne, Switzerland and from that hub actively developed the golden years of alpine tourism.

The XXth Century Health and Pleasure travel guides were widely distributed in England and the new train system brought the English to the Alps. Those were heady days, their business flourished and her painting was prolific.



Reims Cathedral, 1924


The adventure of the World War I put an end to that happy life. It brought intense sorrows and personal tragedy with the death of her son Helier in Iraq, painting became her solace. She had a rare personality, who, in spite of the devastation caused by World Wars, refused the negative syndrome and always maintained that “the world cannot get any worse, only better”.

After the war she again criss -crossed Europe and painted what she saw as the aftermath of war from crumbled cathedrals to Armistice Celebrations.



St. Paul’s Cathedral, 1946


When the World War II broke out, Jean Playfair travelled with her son Archie’s young family to England via France, Spain and Portugal. The situation did not stop her from painting resort towns on the way, Estoril, outside Lisbon. She painted during the war years, several of London’s Green Park in full blossom. Also one of St. Paul’s Cathedral seen after being bombed. Rooftops in the evening light from Draycott Place.  She also painted he Houses of Parliament .




Confignon, 1956



She never stopped painting until she died in 1956. Her last painting, the church in Confignon, Geneva was painted from the bed that she could no longer leave.