Discover The Collection

Watts Studios

Opening January 2016! G F and Mary Watts, Victorian artists and visionaries, built their home, Limnerslease, in the Surrey Hills amongst the breath-taking scenery of the Pilgrims’ Way. Taking inspiration from their surroundings, both artists thrived, creating works within their home and studio. The Watts Studios project will restore that sense of wonderment found at Limnerslease, bringing back G F and Mary Watts’s vision of ‘Art for All’ and their ties to the local community.

Patient Life of Unrequited Toil

Patient Life of Unrequited Toil

Painting

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Patient Life of Unrequited Toil

Artist: G F Watts

Date: 1890-1

Material: Oil on Canvas

Lender: Part of the Watts Gallery Collection


This painting is part of the original collection bequeathed to Watts Gallery by Mary Watts in 1905.

G F Watts painted this large painting of a grey horse standing at the foot of a tree in a meadow bounded by woodland in 1889-90. George and Mary were staying with their friends Andrew and May Hichens at Monkshatch, the Hichens' large property outside Compton.

On 26 November an old grey horse came to stand for the painting. Watts had set up his easel under a Surrey chalk cliff, an old quarry, which reflected the sun's rays “at compound interest”. Watts studied the chalk formations and the foliage as he walked along the paths.

In this painting Watts shows his sympathy with the suffering of the “lower animals” by infusing the elderly grey horse with human pathos. The horse's head is bowed looking at the ground; his bones can be seen protruding through the skin of his tired frame. The horse's attitude expresses the infinite patience that comes at the end of life to both man and beast as they await the inevitable without regret.

This horse was more fortunate than that of his working brethren, as he is allowed to end his days free from labour and left to feed in the meadow unmolested.

Watts was concerned that this painting looked like a “bottle of green pickles”. However, his friend Lord Leighton diplomatically advised that it was not his usual subject and showed he was not stuck in a rut. The painting was sent to the Royal Academy together with a portrait of Mary's niece Hester.

Text by Shelia Kennard, Archive Volunteer


Bay of Naples

Bay of Naples

Painting

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Bay of Naples

Artist: G F Watts

Date: 1889

Material: Oil on Canvas

Lender: Part of the Watts Gallery Collection

Destiny

Destiny

Painting

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Destiny

Artist: G F Watts

Date: 1904

Material: Oil on Canvas

Lender: Part of the Watts Gallery Collection


Despite its large scale, Destiny is one of Watts's very last paintings. It was made in the final weeks of his life when he was eighty-seven years old. The recently-born, innocent child is newly arrived on the shore of life. The angel hovers behind with an open book, to record its future deeds. Destiny is an allegorical painting: the full-length draped figure is Destiny, and the infant is Humanity.

In this late work Watts revisits the themes of personal responsibility and God's judgement, but now with a tangible sense of a Divine guardian presence.


Sympathy

Sympathy

Painting

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Sympathy

Artist: G F Watts

Date: 1892

Material: Oil on Canvas

Lender: Part of the Watts Gallery Collection


Watts's intriguing representation of a nurse bears a title more typical of one of his subject paintings. Mary refers to the picture as 'This portrait of a nurse, Katharine Webster', about which 'Mr Watts remarked with astonishment on the difficulty of portraying the face in full view'. By not naming the sitter in the title of the present picture, the artist invited readings going beyond the specific and provides a signpost for interpreting it as an evocation of the emotion.

According to Blunt, 'Miss Webster was nurse-companion to Mrs Watts.' and the painting could therefore also be read as the artist's private tribute to the work ethos of an individual nurse as well as the profession of nursing as a vocation. Its title may, in contrast, be ironic, depicting the emotionally detached face of professionalism, reinforced by the sternness of the symmetry. The nurse in a frontal pose gazes directly at the viewer with an uncomfortable aura of severity offering an instant engagement with the picture.

Chaos

Chaos

Painting

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Chaos

Artist: G F Watts

Date: 1873-5

Material: Oil on Canvas

Lender: Part of the Watts Gallery Collection


Around 1850 Watts conceived Chaos as the 'opening chapter of a book', part of an ambitious planned mural cycle eventually named 'The House of Life'. On the left side, powerful titans typify the mountains formed during the era of the earth's orgins. In an intermediary stage a lone figure emerges from the sea. The concluding section, to the right, depicts a period of calm with reposing giants and a graceful chain of flying figures representing the passage of time.

Watts himself explained in 1884 that Chaos reveals the earliest moments of 'our planet' transforming from a 'vaporous uncertainty of atmosphere, of unborn creatures' until the figure emerging from the 'swollen tides marks the beginning of the strides of time'. His outlook and language are almost certainly dependent on recent scientific debates concerning the formation of the world. Watts was well aware of the controversies caused by Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) and later books. He even sought to paint Darwin's portrait. In this painting dynamic figures enact an evolutionary drama within a post-Darwinian primeval landscape. Here pre-history is visualised in the language of the artist.

Text by Barbara Bryant.


Love Steering the Boat of Humanity

Love Steering the Boat of Humanity

Painting

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Love Steering the Boat of Humanity

Artist: G F Watts

Date: 1899-1901

Material: Oil on Canvas

Lender: Part of the Watts Gallery Collection


Another allegorical painting. In this composition, Watts wished to show how a human being, caught among conflicting forces, can recognise that they are powerless to control events, yet can hold onto 'the sustaining faith that the hand of Love directs [their] course.' The two figures represent love and humanity respectively. Depicted adrift on a rough and treacherous sea, Humanity is comforted by the faith that Love is directing his course.

The design, already germinating in Watts's mind, was developed during the sufferings of the Boer War in the first years of the twentieth century. To show the rower's powerlessness in the storm, Watts has shown him 'catching a crab' - that is, missing the water with his oars.


Prometheus

Prometheus

Painting

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Prometheus

Artist: G F Watts

Date: 1904

Material: Oil on Canvas

Lender: Part of the Watts Gallery Collection


Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from the Olympian gods so that he could give it to mankind. Zeus punished him by having him chained to Mount Caucasus, where every day an eagle fed off his liver which then grew back overnight. He was also the creator of mankind, forming humans from clay and bringing them to life with fire.

The myth gained a new resonance around 1800. From Goethe's ode Prometheus (1773), the Olympian gods came to embody unfairness, and Prometheus became the figure of the rebel fighting for a new world order. To Shelley, the Titan's sacrifice led to cosmic regeneration (Prometheus Unbound, 1820), an interpretation similar to Watts's own.

The painter conceived this design in 1857 on his return from the Greek islands. Oceanids, the nymphs of the great ocean, gather in a semicircle at the feet of Prometheus who gazes into the distance, free of chains. The semicircle above his head was originally a flaming sun, emblematic of the Titan's element. Joining the semicircle formed by the oceanids embodying water, Prometheus was placed at the centre of a symbolic cosmogony, turning towards the dawn of a new world. However, perhaps as a gesture of despair, Watts eventually painted over the sun.