Watts Symposium held at the Guildhall Art Gallery and St Paul’s Cathedral
This last week has been dominated by the Watts Symposium held at the Guildhall Art Gallery and St Paul’s Cathedral. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear so many different perspectives on the artist. We heard papers that considered Watts within the light of Darwin, from a philosophical and spiritual perspective, as well as a provocative take on his depiction of women. One fascinating discussion that it sparked was how could the reputation of an artist who was so widely respected in his own lifetime have suffered so much in the twentieth century.
All the Victorians fell, but none like Watts. Regarded as one of the greatest artists of his day his reputation plummeted and was pilloried as all that was bad in Victorian art – apart from his portraits that is. Naturally this is quite unjust, particularly as Watts is not the typical Victorian when it came to painting. Even in his own lifetime he was considered as a man apart. He can be difficult no one at the conference would deny this, but equally he is greatly rewarding. So much of Victorian art lacks the breadth and profundity of Watts vision. William Blake’s paintings and drawings were not truly appreciated until long after his death. The same will, I am sure, be true of Watts.