The Collection Returns to Watts Gallery
The collection returned to Watts Gallery on 1 April; a date which is important in our history. It was the day that Watts opened Watts Gallery in 1904. Following the first major restoration of Watts Gallery in one hundred years, it was an appropriate date for the collection to return. The overriding emotion on seeing Watts’s paintings and sculptures back in the Gallery, was how well they look now the Gallery is restored to the way he originally intended. The red of the tynecastle wall paper, the luminescence of the green ceramic hanging rail, the daylight coming through the baffles of the semi lunar windows, contrasting with the artist’s work now carefully restored paintings with the frames all repainted and restored, the sculpture Gallery specifically built to house Watts’s monumental models of Physical Energy and Tennyson - it all seemed meant for each other.
The first picture to be hung was Paolo and Francesca. How appropriate that this painting was one of the first to be adopted, under the Adopt a Watts scheme started during the Hope project, and in this case was kindly adopted by the British Antique Dealers Association and Emma Verey. Appropriate because the Watts Gallery Hope Restoration project has only been possible through the efforts, generosity and commitment of so many. When at the beginning people looked at the scale of the project, the state of the building, the ignominy of Watts and the lack of resources and thought we were mad, what we also had was people who gave us courage – these were our volunteers, our neighbours, our insurance company, our friends, supporters, trusts and foundations, Heritage Lottery Fund, all the viewers of BBC Restoration Village, 19th- century experts, councilors, academics, Trustees and so many others.
Now seeing the building returned to its original well being and seeing the collection returning looking cared for, and seeing for the first time in Compton, courtesy of Tate, some of Watts’s great masterpieces, one feels that at last this could be the moment when G F Watts OM RA (1817-1904) can once again find his audience; he can at last be taken seriously and there is an opportunity to reappraise his contribution to and influence on the artistic genres of the 20th century. Failing that, there is an opportunity to experience the refreshing courage and simplicity of the Arts & Crafts influence on Watts Gallery and celebrate the fact that this is the only purpose built art gallery for a single professional artist – and now one which does not have buckets standing at every corner to catch the rain.
We now await the verdict of all those who have done so much to save Watts Gallery and its collection for future generations. Our fingers are crossed.