Work in focus: Physical Energy by George Watts

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5 February 2018
Royal Academy of Arts

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Monday 5 February
11am - 12pm
Royal Academy of Arts, Reynolds Room
£8

Join Dr Nicholas Tromans, Curator of Watts Gallery - Artists' Village, to hear about one of the most ambitious and dramatic sculptures of the 19th century, 'Physical Energy' by G F Watts, which this winter returns to the RA's courtyard, where it was first shown in 1904.

GF Watts (1817-1904) was one of the most outrageously ambitious artists in British history; pursuing the creation of iconic imagery that he believed would help the cause of human progress. Physical Energy, a huge plaster model of a horse and rider, was his boldest statement in sculpture, which he laboured over for more than 20 years, from 1883 until his death in 1904. Watts made Physical Energy to symbolise the restless human spirit, always scanning the horizon for the next challenge.

Like so many of Watts's artworks, Physical Energy has assumed a variety of different meanings since its creation and as a result has been received in wildly different ways. It was first cast in bronze as part of the memorial in Cape Town to the arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes, but was also used as the emblem of the radical Labour Publishing Company in the 1920s and 30s. Watts saw his works as having a life of their own, able to find new meanings in different contexts and in succeeding generations.

The first cast of Physical Energy was shown in the Annenberg Courtyard in 1904, and was the first sculpture to make a major impression in this spot in front of the Royal Academy as part of the Summer Exhibition. A new cast commissioned by Watts Gallery Trust has now returned to the site as part of the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the artist's birth, provoking us to question what Physical Energy will mean to us today.

Nicholas Tromans has been Curator of Watts Gallery - Artists' Village since 2013. He is the author of several books on British art, and is currently preparing an exhibition about the poet Christina Rossetti, opening at Watts Gallery - Artists' Village in November 2018.


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