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Biography of George Frederick WattsEnglish Symbolist painter & sculptor
born 1817 - died 1904
Friend of: Walter Crane (1845-1915)
One of the most singular, and enigmatic figures in Victorian art, and perhaps the hardest to pigeon-hole, or classify in any way. George Frederick Watts was born in London, the son of an ordinary family. Watts was serious-minded, lacked a sense of humor, and was politically a radical-on two occasions he refused a baronetcy.
He was very sympathetic
towards the dreadful living conditions of
the urban poor. Watts regarded, as a great
evil, the upper classes of the country
taking vast sums of money they had not
earned. George Frederick Watts produced many allegorical
paintings throughout his long life, and they
vary greatly in their level of success.
He also produced, at his own expense his
ï¿½Hall of Fame,ï¿½ pictures. He was
really at his best as a portraitist. [ But
his best portraits still could never inspire
the way his finest theme paintings did, and
continue to do, such as Hope. - Ed ] The
likenesses of his portraits are excellent,
and in many of them George Frederick Watts really brought out
the character of the sitter. They are,
however, all painted in dark, muted colors,
and collectively give a very somber
impression. There is an excellent display of
them at Bodelwyddan Castle in North Wales,
an outpost of the National Portrait Gallery.
|Watts married Mary Fraser-Tytler in 1886. She was thirty six years his junior, and devoted the rest of her life to the care of her genius, materially during his lifetime, and his reputation after his death. Mary Watts had the misfortune to live until 1938, when her geniuses reputation seemed in terminal decline. In 1891 George Frederic Watts had a new house called Limnerslease (satirised as Dauber's Den by Burne-Jones), built at Compton near Guildford. Nearby in 1903-1904 the Watts Museum was built. It is well worth a visit, and will be featured on this site before long. Close to the Museum is The Watts Mortuary Chapel at Compton. This remarkable building was the painting of Mary Watts, assisted by local villagers. It was built entirely to Mary Watts designs. George Frederic Watts is buried close to the chapel.|
Contemporary Comment from The Pall Mall
Gazette of 1892
There is nothing more satisfactory about the year's art than the evidence we find here that this veteran of English painting is renewing his youth in his seventies. His portrait of Mr Walter Crane, in the New Gallery, which justly holds the place of honor in the Central Room, is superb. For the skill of its texture-painting and the richness of its color, as well as for its character, distinction, and strength, this little work could hardly be surpassed. The reserve and dignity of it are themselves a whole sermon to certain other portrait painters who may be seen in the same room. Indeed, this portrait sets a standard of excellence which may make us unwittingly do less than justice to other George Frederick Watts paintings which of its kind is quite admirable.
A second oil painting of Mr Watts's entitled Afloat, and representing a very jolly Cupid on his back in the seas, with his bow and arrow floating by his side, is a glowing brilliant little picture quite Italianesque in its qualities. About the large Sic Transit, by the same painter, we are less positive.
|It represents a dead figure covered by a sheet lying on a bier which runs across the whole length of the canvas. In the left corner at the foot of the bier amour, musical instruments, and scattered flowers in a confused heap. On the curtain at the back of the bier we see inscribed: "What I spent I had. What I saved I lost. What I gave, I have." There is certain majesty about the lines of drapery which covers the dead figure, and a painter might enlarge upon its technique. But somehow it just fails to be either quite real or quite symbolical, and the fact that the artist has found it necessary to inscribe his moral upon George Frederick Watts oil painting is a hint that he felt it not wholly equal to telling its own story.|
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