G. F. Watts was a hugely popular Victorian painter. He was renowned for his portraits of the cream of Victorian society, and also for his stunning, allegorical paintings. He painted a surprisingly (given what I have learned of her and covered here before!) demure portrait of a young Lillie Langtry (the Dean's Daughter), as well as lots of commissions of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite painters, poets and so on...
Hugest thanks to Watts for giving me permission to take photos inside - a real honour!
I have to say, though: his other works are just stunning. From the famous Hope to his unflinching portraits of the dying and the dead. He had a strongly developed sense of social conscience, and wore a black armband for a lot of his life; almost as if he was mourning the downfall of England. He also particularly loved birds after he accidentally killed one as a child - he insisted that Lillie Langtry removed the black ostrich feather from her hat before painting the portrait above.
But he also painted unflinching portraits of Important People, who quite often didn't particularly like the results of their sitting. Cardinal Manning (a tee-totaller) joked that his painting had made him a 'tippler', and historian Thoman Carlyle complained he'd been portrayed as a 'mad labourer'. Find them both and many others here. But the most famously dissatisfied customer of all was none other than King Edward VII (in his days as Crown Prince).
The portrait itself is sadly not in the Watts Gallery, so I couldn't capture it myself. But here it is...
Now, as we all know, the Prince was a busy chap. So many functions, royal appointments and parties to attend... this meant that sitting for his portrait was a challenge, and Watts often had to travel to him rather than the other way round. Plus, he had to finishing bits of it off without Bertie being present. As a result, the painting wasn't really very good (at least compared to the man in question). As such, when it was exhibited in 1882, it went down like a lead balloon, and was withdrawn quite quickly. The Times critic Quilter apparently called it 'a most unfortunate work', while the Pall Mall Gazette deemed it 'a failure', and Watts actually returned the fee and kept it for himself.
The dress and painting combo (of one Miss Virginia Dalrymple) is included here for no other reason than it's amazing!
Despite all this, however, Watts was awarded the very first ever Order of Merit by King Edward for distinguished service to the arts. The King founded the Order of Merit on 26 June 1902, awarding it to Lord Kitchener and a few others, for the award was also for "exceptionally meritorious service in Our Navy and Our Army" (as well as "towards the advancement of Art, Literature and Science"). It's a beautiful bit of bling, in its original case (if close to the slightly creepy death mask of Watts himself).
The Watts gallery itself dates to 1903 and is a stunning place of Arts And Crafts doors, Surrey tiles and terracotta (more on this later) - the foundation stone, beautifully made from the latter, was laid by Watts on his eighty-sixth birthday, 23 February that year. It was even designed by a young, local architect. Compton is nothing like its LA/NWA namesake, by the way (wish I'd done a pose next to the name sign).
It would have just been bad manners not to do some posing outside such a lovely building, though!
Since it's very nearly the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, I decided to wear my red, white and blue Fleur dress... and then while I was there, I got a text from Shona asking me to tell my readers that it's on offer! 15% off until the 5th June (the end of the Jubilee holiday). There are literally only a handful left, too (about 6 at time of typing) - so please snap one up now if you were ever planning to!
Shoes by Shelly's - part of Miss L Fire's amazing shoe empire!
Now, this next bit has no real tie to King Edward, but it does to Watts, and it's also blooming amazing, so I'm going to write about it anyway. The Watts Mortuary Chapel was designed by Mary Seton Watts, and is the final resting place of G.F. himself, who sadly passed only a year after the gallery house was built, in 1904. It's magnificent, a work of breathtaking art in terracotta.
(apologies for the bad photo-stitching here!)
Angels watch you enter..
Awe-inspiring plaster and gilt-work inside
I won't say too much about it as it's not the point of this blog... but it was thirsty work climbing up the steep path from the Lych Gate, let me tell you! So, back at the gallery, I had a little revivifier.
Not a lot in these King's Ginger miniatures though!
Until next time, stay gingery.
I realised I never drew a winner from my previous blog, so I will rectify that as soon as I grab a moment, my life is a bit mad at the moment with an internship and a new contract just starting (all of which I'm very excited about)... yet somehow I am getting even more done. Why does that happen? Parkinson's Law at work, perhaps.