Watts in Focus: Florence Nightingale

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Posted 11th May 2019

G F Watts
Florence Nightingale, 1868

In 1868, G F Watts painted this half-length portrait in three-quarter profile of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), who famously worked as a nurse during the Crimea.

Little is known about the portrait. It is thought however that Watts intended it to become part of a series of works of eminent Victorians, now well known as the 'Hall of Fame'.

Nightingale was the daughter of a distinguished family of five brothers and five sisters. She spent much of her youth suffering from bouts of depression and questioned the purpose of life in the upper classes.

This until 'God called her into his service' when she was only sixteen years of age. Florence thereafter became dedicated to nursing and women's rights and was a reformer of Army Medical Services.

As an increasingly public figure, she was called to the Crimea in 1854 by the Secretary of State for War, where she went with a party of nurses and gained the title 'The Lady of the Lamp'.

It was in the Crimea that she fell ill with 'Crimean Fever' or 'typhus', which affected her for the rest of her life. Watts was introduced to Florence Nightingale while in Southampton, around the time the artist was working on a portrait of Garibaldi.

This portrait of Nightingale was made during a bout of her illness. It remains unfinished, but is yet able to convey the sitter's deep social conscience.

See the portrait on your next visit to Watts Studios.


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