The Paintings Collection
Watts Gallery’s paintings collection comprises some 250 artworks ranging from finished masterpieces (ie: Paolo and Francesca), through lesser known versions of iconic works to experimental sketches and compositional studies never intended for public display. The nature and scope of the Gallery’s paintings collection makes it a fascinating resource for the study of Watts’s working methods and techniques. It also demonstrates Watts’s remarkable evolution as an artist in terms of style and subject matter over the seven decades of his active career, as well as his responses and contribution to the development of British and European art of the 19th and early 20th century.
Throughout the reign of Queen Victoria, G.F. Watts’s style moves from History Painting through Social Realism, Aestheticism, and Symbolism to works anticipating Expressionism and Abstraction. The young Watts set out to emulate the achievement of Italian artists in the fresco technique and become England’s most famous history painter. This early ambition is represented by two major oils on permanent display at Watts Gallery (Echo,1844-46, extended loan from Tate Gallery; and Guelphs and Ghibellines,1846).
However, Watts’s aspiration to ‘invite reflection’ through his art in the public soon took different forms. In the late 1840s, on his return from a carefree 4-year stay in Italy with Lord and Lady Holland, Watts was so moved by the miserable poverty of the working classes in England and Ireland that he produced a series of large-scale paintings representing the plight of the unprivileged in very sympathetic terms under the titles Found Drowned, Under the Dry Arch, Song of the Shirt and The Irish Famine (all 1848-50). These oppressive scenes of modern life (as opposed to grand history) were pioneering works of English social realism.
In the 1860s, Watts’s use of classical subjects (ie Thetis, 1866-93) and half-length Venetian-style women and nudes (see: Rhodopis, c.1868 and Clytie, late1860s) paralleled English Aestheticism, and in particular the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Watts was also admired among European symbolists for his monumental allegories – such as (Hope, 1885, Love and Death, 1871-87, and Mammon, 1885-all bequeathed to Tate Gallery) and his Aesthetic portraits (see: Violet Lindsay, 1879 and Dr Joachim, 1865-66, Watts Gallery).
Watts’s experimental landscape After the Deluge (1885-1886) was painted twenty years before the Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch decorated the University of Oslo with the mural The Sun (1909 – 1911) strikingly reminiscent of G.F.Watts’s work. Watts Gallery also owns a semi-abstract composition (Sower of the Systems, 1902) preceding the development of European avant-garde abstraction by 10 years.
The Public Catalogue Foundation: Surrey
Every oil painting in the Watts Gallery Collection is included in this book with a small photograph. Priced £15