Physical Energy at the Royal Academy of Arts

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Until 6 April 2018

The Royal Academy of Arts, in collaboration with Watts Gallery Trust, presents a new bronze cast of Physical Energy, the renowned equestrian sculpture by George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817 – 1904), 113 years after it was first displayed in the Royal Academy's courtyard in 1904.

In 2017, Watts Gallery Trust commissioned a new, fourth bronze cast of Physical Energy to mark the bicentenary of the birth of G F Watts. The bronze has been cast at the foundry of Pangolin Editions. Following its presentation at the RA, the cast will be installed permanently at Watts Gallery – Artists' Village in Compton, Surrey, enabled by a crowdfunding campaign through Art Fund's Art Happens platform - the proposed location for the sculpture is adjacent to the Artists' Village and beside the A3, which was recently discussed in a public consultation.

Royal Academician G F Watts is widely considered to be one of the greatest artists of the Victorian age. Sculptor, portraitist and creator of classic Symbolist imagery, he became the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the bequest of his paintings made a significant contribution to the founding collections of Tate and the National Portrait Gallery.

Physical Energy was the culmination of Watts's ambition in the field of public sculpture, embodying the artist's belief that access to great art would bring immense benefits to the country at large. Having completed a commission for the Duke of Westminster for an equestrian monument to commemorate his ancestor, Hugh Lupus, in 1883 G F Watts set to work on a new plaster model of another horse and rider, without specific reference to any individual. Reinvigorating the rhetoric of the equestrian monument for the modern age, Watts conceived Physical Energy as an allegory of human vitality and humanity's ceaseless struggle for betterment.

The plaster model of Physical Energy was part of the artist's bequest to Watts Gallery upon his death in 1904. The first bronze cast of the model, made in 1902, was exhibited in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in 1904, as part of the annual Summer Exhibition. At the request of the British Government it then travelled to Cape Town to form part of a memorial to the founder of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Cecil Rhodes. In 1907, a posthumous cast was made and sited in Kensington Gardens, London, fulfilling the artist's intention to gift the work to the British Government, insisting that it should be 'for the nation' and displayed 'somewhere in London'. A third cast, created in 1959, is situated in the grounds of the National Archives of Zimbabwe in Harare.