George Frederick

United Kingdom • born in XX century
George Frederick Watts (February 23, 1817, Marylebone - July 1, 1904, Compton) - English painter and sculptor.

Features of the artist George Frederick Watts: Watts himself associated his work with the Symbolist movement; he said "I draw ideas, not things." The artist became famous during his lifetime. His paintings "Hope" and "Love and Life" were to become part of the epic symbolic cycle “House of Life”, in which the emotions and aspirations of life are represented in a universal symbolic language. George Watts advocated educational programs for the poor and contributed to the organization of galleries in poor areas of London, where he exhibited his works. A sincere admirer and follower of the traditions of the old masters of Italy, he was known to contemporaries as the “English Michelangelo”.

Famous works of the artist George Frederick Watts: "Hope", "Ellen Terry (Choosing)", "Paolo and Francesca", "The Court of Paris".

Greek classics of literature and Elgin Marbles
George Watts was born on February 23, 1817 in the family of a poor London master in piano making. The father named his son in honor of the great composer George Frederick Handel, who was also born on February 23. Early, lost a mother, a sickly boy began studying in a Christian school, where much attention was devoted to classical literature. And if the school’s conservatism turned it away from religion, the Iliad definitely had an impact on Watts' further career.

George's early talent for drawing found support from his father, and at the age of ten, Watts crossed the threshold of the sculptor's studio, William Benes in Soho. Learning from Benes gave the boy some privileges, including access to the British Museum, where he never ceased to admire the famous Elgin Marbles - a collection of statues and bas-reliefs that once adorned the Athenian Acropolis. The unsurpassed works of the ancient Greek masters influenced the whole further creative life of the beginning artist. After 8 years, Watts entered the Royal Academy, where he studied with great reluctance and where in 1837 he first exhibited his works. Interest in learning weakened, and soon Watts left the walls of the Academy. Thanks to his patron, philanthropist and collector Alexander Konstantin Ionidis, Watts received his first orders for portrait work.

Inspiration by the works of the Old Masters
In 1842, the Royal Commission for the Visual Arts announced a competition for decorating Westminster interiors with large-scale paintings. Watts took part in this competition, and his painting “The Triumphal Procession of Karatacusa through the streets of Rome” was accepted by the Commission and awarded a prize of 300 pounds. The funds received Watts spent on a trip to Europe, studying the artistic world of Paris, and then went south through France and Italy, completing the trip to Florence - here he plunged into the study of fresco painting and its artistic techniques. It was a very important trip to the life of Watts: immersed in ancient Italian art and culture, he completely changed his outlook. Watts' love for Italy and her masters earned him the nickname “senor”, which was often used when referring to an artist throughout his life. Later, at the height of his fame, he was also called the “English Michelangelo” - another evidence of Watts’s commitment to the traditions and canons of the Old Masters. His grandiose plan to decorate Westminster with frescoes was not implemented, however, Watts nevertheless did a great job (about 16x16m) in the upper part of the eastern wall of the Great Hall of Lincoln`s Inn, where barristers of England and Wales sat, and also wrote a number of paintings to decorate interiors .

The technique in which Watts worked was different from that in which his colleagues worked. Rejecting the smoothed surface, which sought his contemporaries, the artist wrote in thick strokes, and to remove excess oil, squeezed paint on paper. Writer and journalist Gilbert Keith Chesterton believed that the painting of Watts was similar to "the frescoes of a certain prehistoric temple." No wonder - he spent so much time studying the frescoes of Italy!

Symbolism, social issues ...
Returning to London in 1847, Watts found the capital of England greatly changed. Against the background of exacerbated social problems in the society, the press increasingly subjected high art to attacks. The artist took to heart the situation, creating a series of symbolic and, at the same time, sharp social paintings, including the work "Hunger in Ireland". “I paint ideas, not things,” said Watts. Criticism reacted favorably to his work, forming a positive public opinion around his work.

... and art shops
In his studio, Watts met Henry Toby Prinsep, who for 16 years was a member of the British Council for Indian Affairs, as well as an amateur artist. Being familiar with the British ambassador to Italy, Henry Fox, 4th Baron Holland, the artist helped Princesep in 1850 to remove the house belonging to Henry Fox. For the next two decades, Watts lived with the Principals at Little Holland House, in Kensington. which became the center of a local bohemian society. Watts taught painting the son of the owners - a 12-year-old Valentine (Vel) Principe; the boy continued his art education at the London Academy of Arts and later became a famous historical and genre painter.

With the artist paid for the work for the parliament building "The Triumph of the Knight of the Red Cross" (1852-53), after which Watts went to Venice - to be inspired by his beloved By titian. He made another trip three years later in the company of the archaeologist Charles Thomas Newton: their journey passed through Constantinople and the islands of Greece and ended in the excavations of the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus. True to educational principles, Watts exhibited his paintings in Whitechapel, one of the poorest districts in London, in which his friend, reformer and philanthropist Samuel Barnett helped him.

In the 1860s, Watts was very popular, and he ventured to take orders directly without intermediaries. His financial situation improved, which was helped a lot by another friend and patron - Alexander Ionidiswhich by then also settled in Kensington. In the house of Ionidis - Holland Park - an artistic salon was being assembled, where the poet and artist were visiting. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter James abbot, Edward Poynter - President of the Royal Academy of Arts, writer George du Maurier and, of course, George Watts.

Communication among influential and noble creative people provided a stream of customers and income. This allowed Watts to spend more time on sculpture, as well as on studies of the female image, inspired by the work of Rossetti, emphasizing sensual pleasure in his works and expanding the color palette. The artist needed a model, and once his friend, playwright Tom Taylor, introduced him to young actresses, Terry's sisters - Kate and Helen.

In love as in the pool
Watts fell in love with image of ellen, in her attractive and mysterious look. He decided to marry a girl, despite the big difference in age: Watts was 47, and Ellen was only 17 years old. They were married on February 20, 1864. Young wife posed for a number of paintings by Watts - so, the appearance of Ellen captured on the canvas "Choosing"; she later wrote in memoirs that “the theater stage seemed unattractive compared to a wonderful studio”. The unequal marriage ended very quickly: Ellen ran away with another man, and after the divorce, initiated by her husband, was sent back to her parents. However, the influence of her image on the works of Watts was so great that for many years he now and then returned to the paintings of the faces of Ellen, he began during their short marriage. Ellen Terry continued her artistic career and became famous, over the years embodying the most famous roles of Shakespeare's plays on the stage, and later starred in movies.

"Poems written on canvas"
Established in his reputation, in the 1880s, Watts began his grandiose study of allegorical themes, and called his paintings only “poems painted on canvas.” The artist’s exhibitions in the Grosvenor Gallery (1881-82) and the Metropolitan Museum (1884-85) were held with great success, and Cambridge and Oxford awarded him high academic titles.

Watts expanded the gallery of Little Holland House and made it available on weekends to the public. He was convinced that art should be close to the common people, and he systematically put into practice his plans, holding his exhibitions in poor areas of London and helping to create new art galleries. During these years he creates his famous works. "Hope"that inspired the world's elite of artists and thinkers, and "Mammon" - as a protest against the destructive greed that prevailed, in his opinion, in modern society.

Second marriage: Compton Art Guild and other creative projects
In 1886, at the age of 69, Watts entered into a second marriage; His chosen one was 36-year-old Scottish woman Mary Seton Fraser Titler, a designer and ceramist. After some time, the couple bought a piece of land in Compton on which their house was built. Limnerlies (Limnerslease). 1891 was a significant year for Mary: painting was left behind, she focused on design and architecture and was able to pay more attention to her philanthropic projects. In particular, in the evenings she taught pottery making classes for local residents of Compton, which took place in the living room of the Watts house. The result of these studies was the creation Watts Chapel (Watts Chapel), whose architectural design was designed by Mary herself. Watts Chapel is recognized as one of the most original buildings in Britain; it combines Art Nouveau, Celtic and Romanesque styles. Inspired by her success, Mary put a lot of effort into creating Compton Potters Art Guild - local cooperative, which received contracts from the most eminent architects of our time. The guild provided employment for the residents of Compton until 1956.

At the end of his days, Watts turned to sculpture, creating his most famous work, Physical Energy (1902). The original sculpture is still in the artist's gallery, and its bronze copies are exhibited in the Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town, as well as in Kensington Gardens in London.

Another project of the Watts Family Union is the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice (1900), which is located in London's Postman's Park (Postman’s Park). A small open gallery, located near the Cathedral of St. Paul, stores small memorial plaques with the names of ordinary people who died to save others.

George Watts twice refused the title of baronet, which he was offered by Queen Victoria. In 1867, he was elected an academician of the Royal Academy of Arts, and in 1902 he became one of the first to be awarded with the new honorary order of the countries of the British Commonwealth for merits.

The results of a long journey
The Watts Gallery next to the artist's home, Limnerlees, opened on April 1, 1904, with Mary supervising the project. Exactly three months later, on July 1, 1904, George Frederick Watts passed away. For his own gallery, Watts retained most of the work that was created during his 70-year career. His paintings are kept here "Paolo and Francesca" (1872-74), "Sower Systems" (1902) and the original sculpture "Physical Energy" (1884-1904).

George Watts wanted his art to be accessible to all and serve as a source of inspiration. In pursuit of these goals, the artist donated his paintings to galleries throughout Britain. And three galleries, in his opinion, were to serve as the main conductors of his educational ideas. One of them is his own, the Watts Gallery. The second was the Tate Gallery, where Watts donated his famous allegorical works, including "Court of death". The National Portrait Gallery Watts handed over his most wonderful portrait work, including from the “Hall of Fame” series.

Author: Rita Lozinskaya

Go to biography


View all publications


All exhibitions of the artist
View all artist's artworks
Whole feed