'I had no idea that here in Surrey, there was a collection of such richness and a story of such depth. That one man with his devoted wife could leave so much — which makes Compton a unique artists' village and Watts one of the most important artists and philanthropists of the 19th century.' — Penelope Keith CBE DL
First opening its doors to the public in 1904, Watts Gallery is a purpose-built art gallery created to display the works of the great Victorian artist G F Watts. Watts holds a unique position within British art. In his own time Watts was critically acclaimed, admired by his fellow artists, both at home and abroad, and was popularly adored, allowing him the public platform to explore his idea of a poet-painter who could preach eternal truths and provoke social reform.
Over 100 paintings by Watts are on permanent display. Spanning a period of seventy years, they include portraits, landscapes and his major symbolic works. From the dramatic entrance of the Livanos Gallery to the monumental artefacts in the Sculpture Gallery, Watts Gallery beautifully presents the unique collection left by the artist.
Watts Gallery also has a programme of temporary exhibitions showcasing some of the finest works relating to Watts, his inner circle and the Victorian age in general.
'A hidden treasure in Compton in Surrey, stuffed with huge allegorical paintings and sparkling portraits that were the talk of Victorian society' — Maev Kennedy, The Guardian
The history of Watts Gallery
Throughout his life, Watts had commissioned a number of leading architects to design buildings for him. However, Watts selected a relatively unknown architect to design his Gallery. Christopher Hatton Turnor (1873–1940) was living within a mile of Compton with his parents and was thrilled to receive a commission from such an established artist. Watts's choice of Turnor reflected both his and Mary's ethos by supporting Arts & Crafts in the local community.
The building was constructed using Surrey tiles, and its foundation stone, a beautiful terracotta block, was laid by Watts on his eighty-sixth birthday. He lived to see the gallery open for only three months, passing away on 1 July 1904.
Watts's death sent shockwaves throughout the art world and had a devastating impact on the gallery, which Mary closed so that the collection might form the core of a large travelling memorial exhibition. This allowed Mary the opportunity to expand the gallery, allowing for the display of more works, something that Watts himself had wished for before his death.
Watts Gallery today
By 2004, 100 years after it first opened, conditions at Watts Gallery had deteriorated so severely that it was deemed 'at risk'. The Trustees launched the aptly named Hope Project with the aim to save the building and its unique collection for at least another hundred years to come. Following an extensive restoration and extension, Watts Gallery re-opened in 2011.
Two new temporary exhibition spaces were added as well as an outer workshop equipped with a kiln as a learning and event space. The Wattses had always been keen to involve local communities in projects, a value that the Artists' Village endorses today with outreach programmes and learning programmes. The Hope Wall outside the Sculpture Gallery was also created; through word and image it records the thoughts and memories of the current local community.
Isabel Goldsmith Patiño Gallery
The Isabel Goldsmith Patiño Gallery (formerly the Green Gallery) is the largest gallery space in Watts Gallery and was built shortly after the death of Watts to provide space for thirty-two additional paintings. Today this gallery is decorated in its original green with a contemporary lantern reminiscent of the one that was built in 1905 but allowing more lighting control to showcase Watts's masterpieces at their best. The gallery was generously funded by Isabel Goldsmith Patiño. Ms Goldsmith-Patiño donated the gallery in tribute to the memory of her mother, Isabel Patiño (1935-1954), who passed away too soon.
'Isabel Goldsmith has been an inspiration to the Watts Gallery Hope Restoration appeal. Her lead gift gave courage to others and has resulted in a glorious experience for visitors. We thank Isabel Goldsmith from the bottom of our hearts, as she has helped to ensure that Watts Gallery survives for another hundred years.' — Richard Ormond, Chairman of Watts Gallery Trust
Richard Jefferies Gallery
The Richard Jefferies Gallery (formerly the Sunken Gallery) holds the current temporary display of the De Morgan Collection, on long-term loan to the Artists' Village.
Watts only began to seriously turn to sculpture when he was in his fifties and was safely established as a subject painter and portraitist. He never actually trained in sculpture, but as a young boy had studied in the studio of the sculptor William Behnes and was inspired by the naturalism of the anatomy, the grandeur of form and the folds of drapery in the Elgin Marbles housed at the British Museum. He admired their storytelling, as each fragmented part of the marbles relates a story from ancient Greek life and mythology. Watts believed the best sculpture should show movement and life, demonstrated in his magnificent artwork
Physical Energy, among others in this gallery.