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Posted 10th August 2017

Colour is the first of three major themes explored in our summer blockbuster exhibition, G F Watts: England's Michelangelo. Many of the paintings selected for this exhibition showcase Watts's stunning use of colour in his paintings, such as the three profiled here.

Time, Death and Judgement (c. late 1870s-1896, St Paul's Cathedral)

In Time, Death and Judgement, Watts shows Time as an athlete marching blindly forwards holding a scythe. Death is his partner, a young woman gathering cut flowers, and they walk side by side 'through the waves of the stream of life'. In their wake rises Judgement, whose scales appear immediately behind Time's head.

Watts represents each of his figures as dynamic and attractive, using elements of the symbolic language of the art of the past to create a new universal allegory. Watts uses colour to great effect here: the warm, rich tones of Time's skin and drapery contrast strikingly with Death's cool, ghostly pallor, while Judgement's flaming scarlet robes and the brilliant orange of the sun enliven the backdrop. Pronounced highlights across the surface give the draped clothing greater depth and the impression of movement.

After the Deluge (c. 1885-91, Watts Gallery Trust)

After the Deluge depicts Watts's vision of the biblical story of Noah's ark from The Book of Genesis when a terrible forty-day flood wipes out all life on Earth, except for a chosen few. In this magnificently simple and brilliantly colourful image, Watts depicts the moment the sun reappears, its warm, restorative rays reflecting across the waters.

Essentially a study of the effects of light, Watts said of this painting, 'I have not tried to paint a portrait of the sun — such a thing is unpaintable — but I wanted to impress you with the idea of its enormous power.' The work feels part of avant-garde modern European painting and, indeed, may have inspired artists such as Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh.

Jane 'Jeanie' Elizabeth Hughes, Mrs Nassau Senior (1828-77) (1857-58, National Trust, Wightwick Manor)

Watts met the beautiful and idealistic Jane 'Jeanie' Senior — Britain's first female civil servant — in around 1851, and by the time he painted this elaborate portrait, she had become his closest confidante. Both artist and sitter were passionate philanthropists, with Watts's belief in the power of art to effect social change chiming with Jeanie's own values.

This painting is one of Watts's most vivid and aesthetically pleasing and one which has been considered Pre-Raphaelite in its imagery. Dressed in vibrant blue shot silk, Jeanie is shown engrossed in watering a lily of the valley (a symbolic of purity) while cast onto the floor are cut, exotic flowers, representative of 'artificial society'.

G F Watts: England's Michelangelo runs at Watts Gallery until 26 November. Book admission tickets online now.