Born London in 1927 to a Scottish father and a Welsh mother, and a descendant of the Bard Hedd Wyn, Ishbel McWhirter was brought up in north Wales. She boarded and studied at A.S.Neill’s Summerhill School, resulting in her first solo show in London's Bond Street aged 18. Invited by the great Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka to become his pupil, which continued for 7 years.
Kokoshka wrote in 1945, " I see my pupil Ishbel McWhirter moved by curiosity...she pictures her heroines with a serene remoteness, lovely restraint, and the strangeness of the designers of the white funeral vases of ancient Greece."
Kokoshka encouraged her ‘lively un-English palette’ which has resulted in her vibrant watercolours and oils, often of the Menai Strait. Of her portraits, Kokoshka stated it appeared the colour came through the skin rather than being applied by a brush. She is best known for her portraits which include: Melvyn Bragg, Sir Kyffin Williams, Barbara Hepworth, Tilda Swinton, Nelson Mandela and Lord Scarman.
In 1990 in honour of her time with Kokoschka she was invited to hold an exhibition at his birthplace near Vienna.
She mostly paints in her studio overlooking the Menai Strait. A panorama that has fascinated and inspired her work.
National Portrait Gallery, London
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Scottish National Portrait Gallery,Edinburgh
National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
Oriel Mon, Llangefni