The Making of Mary Seton Watts
12 November 2013 – 19 January 2014
Mary Seton Watts (1849-1938) is principally known as a ceramic artist and designer, most notably for her design and creation of the Watts Chapel in Compton. However prior to her marriage to the great artist G.F. Watts in 1886, Mary’s work was more experimental and varied: from illustrations and paintings in watercolour and oils to decorative schemes and sculptural work. The Making of Mary Seton Watts provides an opportunity to reassess the artists, institutions, influential figures and sources that inspired her career and artistic training. At its core the exhibition considers how she developed her identity as an artist, and the path of her career within the wider context of Victorian Art and against the experience of other female artists of the period.
From her earliest years Mary Seton Fraser Tytler moved in important artistic circles, such as the Freshwater community, in the Isle of Wight, which included the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and the artist George Frederic Watts. Throughout her life Mary benefitted from such links to a broad artisan network. Her sister Christina Fraser Tytler gave Mary the opportunity to illustrate her first book in 1869, entitled Sweet Violet. In 1870 Mary began her formal art training, entering the National Art Training School, and from 1872-3 studied at The Slade School of Art.
On 20 November 1886 Mary became the wife of G.F. Watts. From the 1890s onward she taught pottery to large numbers of local people in her rural community of Compton. Mary went on to establish a successful commercial pottery, which sold its wares through Liberty of London and other venues nationwide. She also became a leading member of the Home Arts and Industries Association, an organisation that sought to revive traditional rural crafts. Mary’s most ambitious work of art, also a community project, was her ‘Celtic Romanesque’ Watts Cemetery Chapel, which she designed and decorated with the help of 70 local villagers in Compton, and completed in 1904.
The Making of Mary Seton Watts is undeniably a story of success; of the venture of a young woman into the male dominated world of art, only just opening its doors to female artists, and her progress from that period of uncertainty to become the founder of the commercially successful Potters’ Arts Guild, designer of the Watts Cemetery Chapel, and pioneer of the Celtic Style for Liberty & Co.