The Physical Energy Project

Physical Energy is a monumental equestrian sculpture that has been cast on four separate occasions. Each bronze was made from a full-size plaster model, which is on permanent display in the Sculpture Gallery here at the Artists' Village. G F Watts first began to work on this ambitious project in the early 1880s. He continued to develop the bold and angular design right up until his death on 1 July 1904. Intended as a gift to the nation, Physical Energy represents Watts's lifelong commitment to create ambitious, large-scale art for the public.

Claiming to 'paint ideas, not things', Watts would use a unique symbolic language in his painting and sculpture. Rather than representing a specific horse and rider, Physical Energy symbolises a broader, more abstract idea. It was intended to express:

'man as he ought to be – a part of creation, of cosmos in fact, his great limbs to be akin to the rocks and to the roots, and his head to be the sun'.

In 2017, Watts Gallery Trust commissioned a new cast of Watts's most ambitious sculpture to mark the artist's 200th birthday. The monumental plaster model was cast in bronze thanks to the Art Happens crowdfunding campaign (Art Fund) and the donations of friends, volunteers, donors, Compton residents, neighbours, staff, Trustees, artists, workshop participants and so many others.

The bronze was cast at the foundry of Pangolin Editions before being exhibited in the Royal Academy of Art's Annenberg Courtyard to celebrate the bicentenary, coinciding with the Academy's 250th anniversary celebrations. It was seen by an estimated 750,000 people during a five-month display, during which time it also featured in the London Lumière Festival in January 2018.

Physical Energy has a complex past, assuming multiple different meanings both within the artist's lifetime and afterwards. Part of the sculpture's history has become closely tied to the commemoration of Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), the financier, politician and mining tycoon who played a dominant role in British Imperial expansion of Southern Africa.

In the 1920s, the sculpture was adopted as a logo for the Labour publishing company. At Watts Gallery, as the artist's most major sculptural project, Physical Energy has represented the artist's ambition and commitment to public art, as the institution's logo and as the weathervane on the gallery roof.


Plans are underway to display the fourth bronze at Watts Gallery – Artists' Village. In preparation for the installation of the cast, the organisation is working in consultation with all our communities to re-examine the ways in which the sculpture's multiple histories can be explored and interpreted today.

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