Home by the sea

Marine painter Jilly Dyson, from Down Under, outside her new Greenwich home. Photograph by Nina Mennacher.
Marine painter Jilly Dyson, from Down Under, outside her new Greenwich home. Photograph by Nina Mennacher.

Marine artist Jilly Dyson says she’s not one to put her palate before her palette. But her guests will never know. Drop by for a casual dinner at her new mid-19th century Greenwich home and you’ll be treated to a luscious repast of wine, cheese, bread, grilled salmon, a Greek salad and raspberries.

On Nov. 14 of last year, Dyson moved to America from Sydney, Australia, with one suitcase – and numerous canvases.

For most of us, the baggage would’ve been reversed – lots of luggage and one artwork, thank you very much.

But Dyson, whom WAG readers first met in our November 2012 “Choices Made” issue, is a passionate marine painter, one who must paint every day before the last of the silvery northern light slips from the sky.

“I love the silvery light of the Northern Hemisphere,” she says. “I love New York, the enthusiasm of the people, the warmth, the generosity, the energy.”

So Dyson – who exhibited and sold her work for 15 years in New York, particularly Katonah, and Connecticut – set about buying a house in Greenwich. She found one on her first day here.

It’s a charming gabled 1845 affair near the waterfront, with a mansard roof, garden and picket fence. You can imagine an old sea captain rambling up the steps from his wanderings. How fitting then that it should be purchased by a painter whose use of swirling impasto recalls Homer, Turner and Whistler.

The interior reveals the artist’s flair for spare but pointed decorating, with a few big statement pieces and an ocean palette. Dyson herself seems like a delicious creature risen from the sea, a naiad or mermaid perhaps, with long blond-white hair and eyes the color of misty waters. There’s a softness, a gentleness to those eyes, the fine features and the Aussie-accented voice. (Technically, she’s a Kiwi, having grown up on a coastal farm near the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, where she rode horses with her sister and reveled in the expanse of sea and sky and “the luscious smell of oil paints.”)

Wanderlust is in her DNA. Her great-grandfather was Capt. William Boyd, who brought settlers to New Zealand in the 1870s. Her brother wrote books on sailing.

As a young woman, she moved to Italy to haunt the great museums and found early success with her canvases. On another recent day, over a long lunch at the Delamar Greenwich Harbor as the light begins to elude the day, Dyson talks about the role of luck and fate. Her professional luck held until the terrorist attacks of 9/11 when the art market suddenly dried up.

Fate has had other challenges in store. Under the provisions of her new visa, she cannot sell any of her work and must return to Sydney twice a year. Then on Feb. 6, she slipped on black ice on Field Point Road. She broke her right (painting) arm, which required surgery and pins and left her in a good deal of pain. To say nothing of the bill she paid, since her Australian insurance didn’t cover it.

“It was a nightmare,” she says. But through it all, she has persisted and kept painting, taking her work in a more abstract direction, suggesting late Whistler and Monet.

“I can’t bear the thought of not living here,” she says. “You just have to believe in yourself and keep going.”

For more on Jilly Dyson’s work, email jillymarie.dyson@gmail.com. 

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