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Directors Blog: New exhibitions, Ellen Terry and Peter Blake

Posted 16th June 2014
Watts Contemporary Gallery

It is exciting to open another show – but not just one – two! The Ellen Terry: A Painter’s Actress opened on 9 June to great interest and support. The actress Geraldine James, spoke powerfully about the importance of this great icon of the 19th Century and gave a reading of the Quality of Mercy speech by Portia from The Merchant of Venice. It was very moving and combined with the film that is being shown of Ellen Terry as part of the exhibition, the painter’s actress really felt present in spirit. The second exhibition which opened on 7 June was Peter Blake: Pop Victoriana, in the Old Pottery Gallery. This is wonderful. The quality of the prints produced by CCA Galleries is supreme and the inspiration of the Victorian age on Peter Blake’s creative process is clearly evident. There is even a collection of Alice in Wonderland prints. All the works are for sale. Peter Blake attended the opening and it was observed that he shared a number of parallels with Watts – a driving energy to explore new genres for expression, the importance of values in his art – hope, love, faith etc, and his belief that his art encompasses all his experience.

This week a group of Watts Gallery patrons flew off to Russia! This is part of their strengthening the partnership between Watts Gallery Trust and Polenovo – an artist’s campus two hours from Moscow, founded by Vassily Polenov which also boasts an artist’s house and studio, a gallery and a chapel. Watts Gallery Trust is developing a network of artists’ studio house museums and this week there was a meeting with a European funder to support the development of the network.

When an eminent artist commends the importance of Watts and Watts Gallery it is really heartening. Sir Antony Gormley was generous enough to address a group of Watts patrons and benefactors at the Serpentine in May, to celebrate the importance of Watts’s sculpture Physical Energy and to help Watts Gallery in its efforts to raise the funds for Limnerslease. In his words he spoke about his very generous gift of a sculpture Another Time XIII which was sold at auction to support the Limnerslease project “All I want to say is that I gave just something that I do every day in order to honour the spirit of an artist that I think understood the centrality of art and creativity in human life; who wanted to share it, whose work is so enormous, in many ways he cannot be categorised and this is why I love him so much. That a man who made Physical Energy could also make the extraordinary universal tribute to individual acts of bravery that you can find in Postman’s Park, but also painted the Sower of Systems that in some way liberated art from all representation and talked about cosmic energy long before Jackson Pollock.”

Watts Gallery Trust could not continue without the support of so many people. Every day the Gallery can only open because there are stewards to care for the collection, to welcome visitors and to enhance their visit through sharing their knowledge and passion. In the recent discussions about volunteers, whether little old ladies, distinguished gentleman, young people, or just straight individuals of all kinds, independent gallery museums such as Watts Gallery could not survive without their support. Moreover, the over 300 volunteers who do work with us join us on a journey of learning. There are quarterly meetings to hear their views, learn more about the collection, discover some hidden letter or painting, review the learning programme, give feedback on new events such as Watts at Dusk and Watts at Dawn. The volunteers are a vital part of the organisation and I call them the third eye of governance. Their comments keep me in touch and on target! We are very grateful.