George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817-1904)
c.1848 - 1850, oil on canvas
Watts painted this dramatic composition of an unknown drowned woman, her feet still in the water, lying on the bank of the River Thames. Its title is a legal term used in a coroner’s inquest. She clasps a chain and heart-shaped locket suggesting a tragic suicide and its cause, while her plain clothes convey poverty. Set under Waterloo Bridge, well known for illegal suicides at this time, emotion is emphasised by the woman’s outstretched pose and her illuminated face. In the distance, is the vague outline of the heavy industrialised south bank, opposite Hungerford Bridge, expressing Watts’s revulsion at the resulting social dislocation and despair. A radical painting for its time, it belongs to a group of four Social Realist paintings.
Did Watts sympathise with the woman’s circumstances? What suggests this?
What might Watts have felt about poverty and suffering in cities at this time?
What gives hope in the painting?
Do you think Watts witnessed this scene? How did he know about it?
In Watts’s day, newspaper articles reported suicides. Choose your own newspaper headline and, like Watts, recreate the event in a drawing or painting.
The model in the painting plays out a role from real life. Have your own models do the same with your headline story.
Discuss some appropriate titles. Like Watts, you could give your work a title using legal vocabulary.
Find Out More:
G.F. Watts, Under a Dry Arch, c.1848-50, Watts Gallery
G.F. Watts, The Irish Famine, c.1848-50 Watts Gallery
G.F. Watts, The Seamstress, c.1849-50, Watts Gallery