Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP Visits Watts Gallery

Posted by Admin on 17 May 2011, 3:22 p.m.

Culture Secretary and MP for South West Surrey, Jeremy Hunt, today visited Watts Gallery, Compton to witness the final weeks of preparation for the Gallery’s reopening on Saturday 18 June. Jeremy Hunt – who last visited Watts Gallery in June 2010 to perform the Topping Out ceremony – enjoyed a preview of the restored Grade 2* listed gallery building and took the opportunity to thank the many donors, trusts and foundations whose generosity has made the vital restoration possible.

Commenting, Watts Gallery’s Director, Perdita Hunt, said: “We are honoured that the Secretary of State has come to visit to see with his own eyes what has been achieved.”

“In his own lifetime, George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817-1904) was widely considered to be the greatest painter of the Victorian age. He was an outstanding portraitist, sculptor, landscape painter and symbolist and became the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.”

“As ‘all things Victorian’ fell out of favour during much of the Twentieth Century, so the years took their toll on Watts Gallery until the building and its internationally important collection were placed on the English Heritage At Risk Register.”

“Thanks to the enormous generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and to many donors, trusts and foundations, Watts Gallery is now safeguarded for future generations.”

“We are so very grateful to all those who share with us the vision of the Gallery’s founders, G.F. and Mary Watts, both firm believers in the ethos of Art for All. Their kindness will enable us to continue our commitment to making the transformational benefits of art accessible to all.”

Jeremy Hunt MP, who was presented with a book detailing the contribution made by the Gallery’s volunteers, said: “I have been overwhelmed by the commitment of over 200 volunteers and by the remarkable generosity of so many donors, foundations and local authorities. This is a remarkable example of entrepreneurial philanthropy. Thank you.

You have restored a gem of our national heritage and returned Watts as a figure to be reckoned with and to inspire.”

“Now I can honestly commend Watts and Watts Gallery to all my constituents, to my department, to the Heritage Lottery Fund and even to the Prime Minister. We need figures such as Watts not only for our heritage but also for our future. We need galleries such as Watts Gallery to contemplate, challenge and celebrate art for all.”

The visit coincided with the launch of a new book, An Artists’ Village by Mark Bills, Curator of Watts Gallery. This book brings together the Watts story in Compton, highlighting the importance of the village as a centre for exploring Victorian art, social history and craft (available at Watts Gallery and also online at www.wattsgallery.org.uk).

Watts Gallery reopens to visitors on Saturday 18 June.