George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817-1904)
In his own lifetime George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), was widely considered to be the greatest painter of the Victorian age, enjoying an unparalleled reputation. His ceaseless experimentation embodied the most pressing themes and ideas of the time. A complex figure, Watts was the finest and most penetrating portraitist of his age, a sculptor, landscape painter and symbolist which earned him the title ‘England’s Michelangelo.
His fame and renown was not limited to Britain and in 1884 he was the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, a show so enormously successful that it led to a longer run and a gift of his great work, Love and Life to the American people. His works also found great favour in Europe winning gold medals at the Paris Universal Exhibitions in 1878 and 1889. His influence among symbolists was profound and can be seen in the works of Gustave Moreau and Fernand Knopff
The work of G F Watts is of seminal importance in understanding the Victorian period because he was one of its most notable artistic innovators. Watts’s own refusal to become part of any painting movement coupled with the reaction of early twentieth century critics to all things Victorian left his reputation a little tarnished. Ironically, that outspoken critic of Victorian painting, Roger Fry, considered Watts an exception. Fry recognized his great importance within the British School, as shown by his visits with his students to the Watts Picture Gallery. Until the late 1930s, the Tate Gallery had a Watts room which exclusively showed the work of the artist. The legacy of his Hall of Fame portraits form a major part of the National Portrait Gallery’s nineteenth century holdings and the Tate Gallery’s huge collection are a tribute to his importance.
|Hope--his most famous painting|
He painted many “social justice” paintings and many of his worries about the homeless and the poor are as relevant today as they were then. His paintings could be photographs from today.
|Found Drowned--she has a locket in her hand from her lover who abandoned her|
|Under a Dry Arch--where the homeless *still* sleep|
|Ophelia--about to drown herself|
He was a progressive guy and one of the founding members of the Society For the Protection of Birds (later to become the RSPB) and he once removed a feather from the hat of Lillie Langtry when she sat for a portrait because “no exotic bird should have to die so that women might decorate their hats with the plumage.”
|A Dedication--an angel weeps over the feathers of dead birds used in the millinery trade|
|my favourite Greek myth|
Lastly, my favourite painting—one that I recall seeing in 1990 when we exchange students—is called Choosing. According to http://www.wattsgallery.org.uk
This delicate yet sensuous portrait shows the seventeen-year-old Ellen Terry choosing between the camellias, which despite their luscious appearance have little scent, and the violets in her hand which are far humbler in appearance but smell sweeter. The choice, which is symbolic of that between worldly vanities and higher virtues, had a personal significance for the artist and the sitter. 1864 was the year in which Terry gave up the stage to marry Watts, thirty years her senior, and to be educated by him. The marriage lasted barely a year, and despite Watts's disapproval, Terry eventually returned to the stage
There was also a mini Charles Dickens’s exhibit entitled Dickens and the Artists which was very interesting.
Plus we saw there will be an Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale exhibit February of 2013 so we know we’ll be there!
It was a wonderful four days and we felt completely refreshed and ready for school—which we should be as it starts next week!