Watts Gallery and Polenovo Launch International Partnership
On 25 March, Watts Gallery hosted a delegation from the Museum Estate of Vasily Polenov, to celebrate the launch of new International Friendship. Watts Gallery was the home of the eminent Victorian artist George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817 – 1904) and his wife, the ceramic artist Mary Seton Watts (1849 –1938); the Museum Estate of Vasily Polenov was the home of the great landscape painter Vasily Polenov (l844-l938), and his family of talented artists and craftsmen. Both house museums continue to act as catalysts for the production and promotion of art, and this collaboration is an opportunity to develop the remarkable synergy between them.
The International Friendship seeks to establish a relationship between Polenovo and Watts Gallery which enhances the mission of each centre and develops new thinking, ideas and activities which fulfil their shared founding vision – to provide ‘Art for All’. Led by Watts Gallery’s Curator, Nicholas Tromans, the International Friendship will look to establish an international network of centres and communities for the Arts & Crafts.
The project has already received the support of the V&A in London who will co-host an international conference in 2014.
The International Friendship forms part of the Anglo-Russian Year of Culture 2014, a bilateral programme initiated by the Government of the Russian Federation to encourage participation in joint and mutual cultural celebration.The formal agreement was signed by Foreign Ministers Lavrov and Hague at a bilateral meeting in London on 13 March 2013.
Commenting, Watts Gallery’s Director, Perdita Hunt, said:
“It is remarkable to discover a parallel universe in Polenovo, an artists’ village founded on a vision of art for all, which mirrors the vision of G.F. and M.S. Watts in Compton. By coming together, we can explore the impact of the Arts & Crafts movement and ethos across Europe, enjoy exchanges and exhibitions and strengthen new audiences’ enjoyment and discovery of artistic legacies which have an enduring and unique sense of place. Over the next five years we are keen to promote Compton as a hub in the UK for exploring the Arts & Crafts movement in Europe and the United States; this marks a first step.”
Natalya Polenova, Director of Polenovo, said:
“Vassily Polenov travelled widely throughout Europe and the Middle East, fascinated by the rich and contrasting cultures of the many countries he visited. By studying these distinctive national traditions, his aim was to introduce exciting new innovations to his own art, and expand the cultural horizons of his audience. The museum he founded was the very first provincial museum in Russia and was not only dedicated to its local community, but also possessed an outstanding art collection. Vassily Polenov would now be delighted that his museum has transcended national boundaries and become the very first Russian regional museum to establish a partnership with a British regional museum. Furthermore, he would feel a true sense of kinship with the aims of George and Mary Watts in Compton, who shared his belief in the power of art in the community. His museum, Polenovo, now looks forward to working on future joint initiatives with Watts Gallery, inspired by their mutual ethos of Art for All.”
Andrea Rose, Director of Visual Arts and Strategic Programmes, British Council said:
“In 2014, when the UK and Russia have pledged to deepen the cultural relationship between our two countries, the Watts-Polenovo programme is a wonderful example of innovative exchange, linking not only two artists houses but regions outside our capitals, revealing the richness that lies beyond our usual areas of knowledge. The Watts-Polenovo exchange is a welcome addition to the 2014 programme.”
Kirsty Anson, whose research inspired the International Friendship and who has been a catalyst in fostering the relationship between Watts Gallery and Polenovo, said:
“Compton and Polenovo were established, almost simultaneously, as centres of art and philanthropy in the late 19th century, demonstrating the artistic and ideological affinities between progressive thinkers in Britain and Russia at that time. It is truly remarkable that both centres have survived the challenges of the 20th century with their buildings and collections intact, and continue to be run today according to their founders’ philanthropic vision for art and community education, with a house, studio, chapel and Gallery. It is this shared ethos which stands at the heart of the Friendship between Polenovo and Watts Gallery and which promises to inspire many fascinating and rewarding shared initiatives in the future.’’