Press Story

A significant painting by George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817-1904) has been allocated to Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village via HM Government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme, run by Arts Council England.

Painted in 1867, the self-portrait is amongst the most important in the career of G F Watts who, in his own lifetime, was recognised as one of the greatest painters of the Victorian age. Watts was an outstanding portraitist, symbolist and painter of landscape and he was the first living artist to be given a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Watts painted self-portraits throughout his career - “whenever I want to make an experiment in method or colour”[1] – and today these paintings provide valuable insight into the life of the artist. From his first Self-portrait aged 17 (1834, Watts Gallery Trust), in which the young Watts presents himself in the Romantic tradition, to his final self-portrait in 1904 (Watts Gallery Trust), where he appears as an Old Master wearing a skull cap and robe, these paintings also reveal how the artist developed his own identity.

Self-portrait, 1867 was painted in the year the artist was elected both an Associate of the Royal Academy and a full Academician. It shows Watts aged 50 and it is the first self-portrait from this crucial period to join the Watts Gallery Trust collection.

Originally acquired from the artist by Charles Hilditch Rickards (1812-1886), the Manchester merchant, philanthropist and collector who was influential in the development of the artist’s career, the painting was subsequently owned by Thomas Henry Ismay (1817-1899), founder of the famous White Star Line, and Kerrison Preston (1884-1974), whose collection of 19th century art also included Choosing (1864) – Watts’s much-admired portrait of his first wife, Ellen Terry.

Now,120 years since the Gallery first opened its doors on 1 April 1904, visitors to Watts Gallery can see how G F Watts chose to portray himself as this critical point in his career. And, displayed alongside earlier and later self-portraits, the painting will further understanding about the development of self-identity across the course of a long life and career.

Alistair Burtenshaw, Brice Director & Chief Executive, Watts Gallery Trust, said:

“We are delighted that this self-portrait has been allocated to Watts Gallery through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme – and its arrival is a wonderful way to launch our 120th anniversary year.”

“The Watts Gallery Trust collection includes paintings, sculpture and works on paper spanning the career of G F Watts, from childhood sketches to unfinished objects that the artist was working on when he died in 1904. Self-portraits shed light on the artist at different stages of his career and now, for the first time, visitors will see how Watts saw himself as he became George Frederic Watts RA.”

Michael Clarke CBE, Chair, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, said:

“I am delighted that this Self-Portrait by G.F.Watts has been allocated to Watts Gallery - Artists’ Village through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. It dates from 1867, a significant year for the already very successful Watts when he finally gained recognition from the Royal Academy, being appointed an Associate and then Full member in the same year. Belying this new status he portrays himself in ‘bohemian’ rather than ‘academic’ or ‘Old Masterish’ mode in this picture, which fills an important gap in the Watts Gallery’s impressive series of self-portraits by the artist. I hope that this example will encourage others to use the Scheme that does so much to assist our national collections.”

Arts & Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:

“There can be no more fitting place for this self-portrait of George Frederic Watts to hang than in the gallery of its namesake.

“Thanks to the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, this acquisition will allow The Watts Gallery’s 120th anniversary celebrations to begin in earnest, bolstering its already impressive collection of his work, which I've been delighted to see for myself, and building on the great work it does to engage and inspire artists and visitors alike."

The painting was from the collection of Ivor Kerrison Preston and the Acceptance in Lieu was negotiated with the assistance of Christie’s Heritage and Taxation Advisory Service.

For further information:

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G F Watts OM RA (1817 – 1904)

Self-portrait, 1867

© Christie’s

For further press information about Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village please contact: Tamsin Williams – – 07939 651252

For more information about the Acceptance in Lieu scheme and the Arts Council, please contact: The Arts Council’s communications team at:

Notes to editors

This work was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme and its acceptance settled £92,978 of tax.

Details of the work are as follows:

George Frederic Watts, O.M., R.A (British, 18171904)


signed and dated 'G.F. Watts. 1867.' (lower left)

oil on canvas

26 x 21 ½ in. (66 x 54.6 cm.)


Purchased from the artist in 1869 by Charles Hilditch Rickards, Seymour Grove, Manchester

Christie’s, London, 2 April 1887, lot 18 (260 gns to Agnew)

Joseph Ruston, MP (1835‐1897), Monks Manor, Lincoln

Christie’s, London, 21‐23 May 1898, lot 56 (650 gns to Agnew)

Thomas Henry Ismay (1837‐1899), Dawpool, Cheshire

Christie’s, London, 4 April 1908, lot 59 (320 gns to Gooden & Fox)

Lord Poltimore

Kerrison Preston (1884‐1974), by 1945, and by descent


M.S. Watts, Catalogue of Portraits by G.F. Watts, O.M., R.A., Vol. II, c. 1915, pp. 167‐8

R. Chapman, The Laurel and the Thorn. A Study of G.F. Watts, London, 1945, opp. p. 85, pl. 18


London, Arts Council, Tate Gallery, George Frederic Watts, O.M., R.A., 18171904, 9 December 1954‐16 January 1955, no. 44, lent by Kerrison Preston

London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, G.F. Watts: A Nineteenth Century Phenomenon, 22 January‐ 3 March 1974, no. 19, lent by Kerrison Preston

The Acceptance in Lieu scheme is administered by the Arts Council. The Acceptance in Lieu Panel, chaired by Michael Clarke CBE, advises on whether property offered in lieu is of suitable importance and offered at a value which is fair to both nation and taxpayer. AIL allows those who have a bill to Inheritance Tax to pay the tax by transferring important cultural, scientific or historic objects to the nation. Material accepted under the scheme is allocated to public collections and is available for all. In the last decade this important government initiative brought £531.9m worth of treasures into public ownership for the enjoyment of all - see more at:

About Arts Council England

Arts Council England is the national development agency for creativity and culture. We have set out our strategic vision in Let’s Create that by 2030 we want England to be a country in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish and where everyone of us has access to a remarkable range of high-quality cultural experiences. From 2023 to 2026 we will invest over £467 million of public money from Government and an estimated £250 million from The National Lottery each year to help support the sector and to deliver this vision.

About Watts Gallery Trust

Watts Gallery Trust is an independent charity established in 1904 to enable future generations to connect with the art and ideas of George Frederic Watts, one of the leading artists of the nineteenth century, and his artist-wife, Mary Seton Watts.

G F Watts OM RA (1817-1904) was widely considered to be the greatest painter of the Victorian age. He became the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the artist’s ‘gift to the Nation’ made a significant contribution to the founding collections of Tate Britain and the National Portrait Gallery.

Mary Watts (1848-1939) was an artist, designer, writer, businesswoman and philanthropist. Her art supported and inspired the people around her, involving local communities in her projects. She was the creative powerhouse behind two significant enterprises: the Watts Chapel and the Compton Potters’ Arts Guild.

Today, Watts Gallery - Artist’s Village continues George and Mary Watts's legacy of Art for all by all. This vision to make art accessible to everyone is realised through a dynamic and multi-sensory programme of creativity, exhibitions, contemporary art projects and community engagement. Read more.

[1] George Frederic Watts quoted in Mary Seton Watts, George Frederic Watts: Annals of an Artist's Life: Writings on Art, vol. I (London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd., 1912), p.245.