The plaster model

Watts first began working on Physical Energy in the early 1880s. He was inspired by the completion of a recent commission from Hugh Grosvenor, the Marquis of Westminster, to create a large equestrian monument to commemorate his Norman ancestor, Hugh Lupus. This new sculpture of a horse and rider was created without reference to a specific individual.

Working at his purpose-built studio-home in Kensington, London, he would wheel the four-metre-high sculpture out into the garden on a set of train-like rails so that he could work in the natural light.

Made from gesso grosso, a thick plaster that is mixed with fibrous materials, Physical Energy has a richly textured surface. Watts began to experiment with this versatile material in the 1870s. Allowing the artist to both model the surface when wet and carve once dry, gesso grosso had a radical impact on Watts’s work as a sculptor, enabling him to embark on much more ambitious and experimental projects. Watts continued to make radical changes to this model of Physical Energy for more than 20 years.

Following Watts’s death in 1904, the model was relocated to Watts Gallery where it has been displayed in the purpose-built Sculpture Gallery since 1907.

> Read on: Cast 1 (1904) of Physical Energy