The Physical Energy Project

Creating a landmark for the South East

The plaster model for Physical Energy, G F Watts's monumental equestrian sculpture, is on permanent display in the Sculpture Gallery here at the Artists' Village. The work is an allegory of the human need for new challenges – of our instinct to always be scanning the horizon, looking to the future. In the artist's own words, it is 'a symbol of that restless physical impulse to seek the still unachieved in the domain of material things'.

Although best known as a painter, Watts was also a renowned sculptor. He began work on the gesso grosso model for Physical Energy in 1884 and was still working on it at the time of his death in 1904.

In 2017, during Watts's bicentenary year, Watts Gallery Trust commissioned a new cast of the iconic work to mark the artist's 200th birthday. This great sculpture has now been 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.

In Autumn, 2020, the sculpture will join us at the Artists' Village, when it is placed adjacent to the A3 - having undergone rigorous safety checks with Highways England -, as an emblem for the South East. We commit to work in consultation with all our communities to ensure that our presentation and interpretation of this project and our wider collections are informed by diverse voices, histories and experiences.

This page will keep you up to date with the latest news on the progress of our project to bring Physical Energy to the Artists' Village - you can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to find out more.

History of the sculpture

The model of Physical Energy was constructed with an adjustable armature of metal bars to allow Watts to regularly chop and change the limbs and positions of both man and horse.

Watts reworked the model for 20 years at his Kensington home, with the four-metre-high sculpture wheeled in and out of the studio on a set of train-like rails that allowed it to be in the garden for daylight work and inside after dark or when it rained. Matching rails are in situ at the Sculpture Gallery for visitors to enjoy today.

In 1904 the first bronze cast of the work became the artist's last submission to the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition. It marked a new prominence for the courtyard of Burlington House as a site for dramatic contemporary sculpture, a role continued today by the Annenberg Courtyard.

The bronze cast attracted attention when it was seen by an estimated 750,000 people during a five-month display in the Annenberg Courtyard at The Royal Academy of Arts in London, from November 2017 to April 2018. It was also featured in the London Lumiere Festival in January 2018.

This page will update you on the progress of our project to create a landmark for the South East.

"Visit Surrey is incredibly excited about this initiative to create a new landmark for Surrey's cultural heritage. Cited near to G F Watts's home and studio, this sculpture will only enhance the growing reputation of this regional arts centre, recently recognised in the Surrey Business Awards as Tourist Destination of the Year."
Chris Howard, Chairman, Visit Surrey

Take a Closer Look - Zoom In

Project Updates:

23.09.19 - We are now close to completing the final design review process, including the technical approval needed for this public art installation, to allow our horse to be securely located alongside the A3. With plans for Physical Energy to be in situ for everyone to enjoy by spring 2020.

We have now received donations or pledges of more than £904,000 – of £1.062 million - and are fundraising for the last fifteen percent to complete the installation this great sculpture for our region.

To quote Theodore Roosevelt 'Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort' and this project has been a herculean effort by all parties involved. We cannot share our thanks enough - to you and all our kind funders and to Art Fund as fantastic supporters. This has been a complex project, but we continue to work hard to ensure its timely completion. We strongly believe that such a prominent and public work of art, with strong public backing, will in turn lead to the enhanced economic prosperity of Surrey not least given its ability to act as a powerful symbol of the dynamism, creativity and a place-making brand for our region.


22.02.19 - Work has now begun on site after leading environmental consultancy, ECOSA, conducted extensive ecological and environmental surveys.

Work to prepare the site, involving woodland management to safeguard wildlife and native vegetation, is underway and you can see progress as you pass the site along the A3 and from the Artists' Village.

“The installation of Physical Energy provides a wonderful opportunity to promote the rich cultural heritage of the area, providing an iconic landmark in the Surrey Hills.

We actively support the creation of views across the Surrey Hills and this is a fantastic opportunity to open up views that have been lost across the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and create valuable open habitat.

When undertaking major landscape works of this nature, the Forestry Commission and other regulatory bodies ensure that all the appropriate surveys and consents are in place."
Rob Fairbanks, Director for the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)


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