A Season of Portraiture

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Posted 22nd January 2020

A Season of Portraiture

Throughout history, artists have painted portraits not only to record an image of their sitters, but also to make a statement about them. Portraits can express the subject's power, beauty, wealth, humour, intelligence, virtue, and many other qualities.

Portraiture has a long tradition at Watts Gallery – Artists' Village. In addition to grand poetic subjects, G F Watts painted portraits throughout his life, earning a living through his commissions. At his own expense, Watts also produced a series of portraits known as the Hall of Fame, which depicted his famous contemporaries, including Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Josephine Butler and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. From 1890, Watts's sitters would travel to Limnerslease to be painted by the artist.

By the end of Watts's life, the Hall of Fame comprised thinkers, historians, artists, clerics, poets and musicians, with the artist gifting the collection to the National Portrait Gallery in London. By placing the works in public hands, Watts saw the series as fulfilling a national mission to inspire through these great figures, highlighting the power placed in portraiture. There were, of course, many omissions; there was no sight of Charles Darwin or John Ruskin, and only one woman features – though Watts had hoped to include Elizabeth Barrett Browning, had considered George Eliot and had started working on Florence Nightingale. The more than forty portraits that he gave to the National Gallery, however, highlight how Watts saw portraiture as able to capture the mind and soul of his sitters, as well as inspire the viewer.

Reviving our historical connection with portrait painting, join us until 23 February for a season of portraiture. Beginning in Watts Contemporary Gallery, explore works by the current membership of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in The Show Goes On, including portraits and studies of well-known faces in a contemporary nod to the Hall of Fame. Venture down to Watts Gallery to see some of Watts's Hall of Fame portraits, including Algernon Charles Swinburne and Walter Crane, before visiting our latest temporary exhibition, William Orpen: Method & Mastery. Celebrated for his career as an official war artist, Orpen became one of the leading portraitists of his age, with this exhibition featuring a selection of striking portraits alongside closely observed pencil studies and anatomical drawings.

If you feel inspired to make your own portraiture, join us for creative workshops and craft activities in our Make Space, with our Artist in Residence Louise Grundy, or throughout February Half Term.