Posted 23rd October 2011
Watts Contemporary Gallery
As the autumn colours turn a rich gold and red, and the fig leaves cover the front of the Watts Gallery sunken garden, we have been immensely lucky to enjoy the sunny weather for welcoming the groups who continue to pour in to visit Watts Gallery. This last week we welcomed 48 members of a NADFAS group! At our quarterly meeting with volunteers, we started to look forward to the year ahead and explore the exciting plans for future exhibitions: The Hall of Fame exhibition will be bringing some of Watts’s masterpieces from the National Portrait Gallery and the wonderful portrait of Tennyson from a private collection, will be on show in February. In June we open an exhibition of Dickens and the Artists which will be the only exhibition in the UK celebrating this link of the great writer and the artists of his time. It just goes to show that Watts Gallery is not a once in a lifetime visit. Friends and volunteers know that there is always something new to enjoy, hear or see. Each Friday, for example, there is a curator’s talk, free of charge.
The pressure to save Limnerslease, Watts’s house and studio is mounting! By the end of January we need to have assembled the funds to secure part of the house. If we fail, we will lose for another three generations, the opportunity to have an insight in to this rich part of our history, and to be able to complete the Watts story. We are immensely honoured that HRH The Prince of Wales has agreed to become Royal Patron of the Limnerslease Appeal. This is evidence of the importance of this Arts & Crafts house designed by Sir Ernest George. On Monday 7 November we have a symposium on Limnerslease and I am particularly looking forward to hearing the talk from Professor Hilary Grainger, Chairman of the Victorian Society, who has recently published a book on Sir Ernest George. We have been immensely heartened by a number of Trusts and individuals who have pledged funds, but I believe that all of us who live in Surrey cannot afford to lose this final part of the jewel in our crown, and create a unique artists’ village.
This last week saw the opening an exhibition of work by this country’s leading watercolourist, Alexander Creswell, who has been using Watts’s great studio. It is moving an dexciting to see how this creative space has enabled Alexander to experiment and now create the largest representational watercolour in the world! Walking over from the Gallery to attend the private view this last week, I saw the lights beaming out from Great Studio and the warm glow from the huge skylights from the huge space where Watts worked on the Court of Death. It was magical. I was astonished to then read this quote of Watts’s studio ‘Here, the great poet-painter of the Victorian age, George Frederic Watts, dwelt for the greater part of the last years of his life. Here was built, upon the hillside, with the greatest simplicity and charm of design, the house that will be regarded with reverence by the pilgrims of all time, for ‘Limnerslease’ is indeed a light set on a hill.’
Hilda Haking, The Shrine of G.F. Watts, R.A., in his Surrey Home, London 1906, p.5, first published in the Girl’s Realm, September 1905
May I thank all those who have helped to achieve the revival and rescue of Watts Gallery; with such an amazing local community and with so much support, passion, ability and expertise, I am certain that Compton can save the last part of its heritage of national importance.