Posted 1st September 2018
Early in August the Curatorial team carried out a long-planned redecoration and redisplay of our Compton Studio and a partial redisplay of both G F Watts' Great Studio and the Mary Watts Studio. The result of many months' research and preparation is a subtle transformation of the Studios, which opened in January 2016. It has been rewarding to witness the positive feedback from Visitors, Volunteers and Staff alike.
Soon after the reopening of the Studios, I was able to take up an invitation to visit two superb collections of works by G F Watts – one at Eastnor Castle, near Ledbury and the other at a private home in Wales. Both are collections of exceptional quality and in each case the works had passed down directly in the same two families since first painted by Watts.
I highly recommend a visit to Eastnor to see the ten sumptuous portraits of members of the Somers Cocks family, including a full length portrait Miss Virginia Pattle painted, according to Mary Watts in the Charles Street Studio in 1849. First exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1850 the portrait was loaned to Watts Gallery in 2015 for Aesthetic Dress in Victorian Portraiture.
The collection also includes The Sisters, a painting of Kate and Ellen Terry, painted from 1863-64 at Old Little Holland House which was loaned to Watts Gallery in 2014 for Ellen Terry: The Painter's Actress. Ellen Terry is said to have described the experience of sitting for Watts, who she married in 1864, made the stage seem 'a poor place'.
Amongst Eastnor's superlative paintings by Watts is Time and Oblivion, painted at Dorchester House in 1843 when Watts was just 26 and exhibited at the RA in 1864 and 1905. The Mary Watts Catalogue described the painting as 'the first realisation on canvas of the dominant idea of the painter's life to deal in art with the great problems of human existence'.
Towards the end of August, I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral, held in our Isabel Goldsmith Patiño gallery, of James Parsons, a longstanding Friend, Volunteer and Pottery Technician here at Watts Gallery. The service was a beautiful reminder of a life well lived and a man who, in his generosity of spirit, encapsulated everything that our founders' aspired to in their vision of Art for All.