Object of the Month: Caricature of G F Watts as an Epsom Beggar

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Posted 8th June 2018

Object of the Month: Caricature of G.F. Watts as an Epsom Beggar

In this centenary year of the 1918 suffrage act, it seems timely to share some more work on our blog by Mary Watts who was a key part of local suffragist networks in Surrey. 2018 also marks the eightieth anniversary of Mary Watts's death.

The pen and ink drawing on paper of An Epsom Beggar (1895) was made by Mary Watts on the 30th May 1895 and was inscribed “drawn from life by the beggar's wife". The drawing uses a mixture of black, brown and white ink depicting a caricature of Watts' as an Epsom Beggar. In the full length study the artist Watts is shown in a long worn coat with three holes in the bottom, holding a hat out with his head downturned and posing as a beggar.

Epsom had strong links with the Wattses. It was where they married in 1886 and was also a location their friend Archibald Primrose, who was the 5th Earl of Rosebery, had a house. Mary's drawing of Watts was sent to Lord Rosebery who replied - “I have received your gruesome portrait of my dear Mr Watts, and promise that you shall share in the spirits, but I can assure you that when the necessary presents are given there is little spoil to share!"

Alongside developments of the printing press and photography, the 1800s saw an uptake in teasing satirical images. At the time, satire was thought not suitable for female practitioners. While some women were able to publish satirical work, none of the main British periodicals which were male-lead had well-known female caricaturist.

On the same day Mary drew this caricature portrait of Watts, there is documentation from Compton Parish Council of Mary offering on behalf of Watts' to build a Chapel on the new cemetery ground. This of course became a central project for Mary who was creative driving force behind the Chapel.

Emily Barrett
University of Sussex MA Placement Student