Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Watts, George Frederick
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

English painter and sculptor. Influenced by the Venetian masters, he painted biblical and classical subjects, but his fame was based largely on his moralizing allegories, such as Hope (1886; Tate Gallery, London). He was also a portrait painter, his works including Gladstone and Tennyson (National Portrait Gallery, London). As a sculptor he executed Physical Energy (1904) for Cecil Rhodes's memorial in Cape Town, South Africa; a replica is in Kensington Gardens, London. He was a forerunner of Symbolism.

The Watts Gallery at Compton, Surrey, founded by his second wife, contains a permanent collection of his work.

Life Watts frequented the studio of the sculptor Behnes as a boy and studied at the Royal Academy schools in 1835. In 1842 he won £300 in the competition for murals for Westminster with his cartoon of Caractacus. He went to Italy and met Lord and Lady Holland, with whom he stayed in Florence, and who became his patrons. The Renaissance pattern of patron and household genius was later repeated during his 30-year stay at Little Holland House, Kensington, with Thoby Prinsep and his wife. Insulated from the world, Watts worked on allegories, symbolic frescoes, and portraits of those he admired.

Painting His studies of eminent Victorians such as Morris, Gladstone, and Tennyson, combine idealism and reality, while his portrayal of the actor Ellen Terry, his first wife, is sensitive and perceptive.

He is best known for the cloudily philosophic works of the 1880s such as Hope and Love and Death (Tate Gallery, London), while his Mammon shows the Victorian desire to teach and uplift. The influence of the Venetians and of the Elgin marbles is traceable in his style, but failings in colour and form too often give painful prominence to his didacticism and ill-defined thought. His equestrian statue Physical Energy, however, matches subject to style in a work of great originality.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Watts, George Frederick
Philip's Encyclopedia

1817-1904 English painter and sculptor. He produced complicated, moralistic allegories such as Hope (1886). Watts' best-known sculpture is an...

Full text Article CAMERON, JULIA MARGARET (1815-1878)
Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography

British photographer of portraits and genre scenes Julia Margaret Cameron was born in 1815 in Calcutta, a week before the Battle of Waterloo...

Full text Article Watts G.F. (1817 - 1904)
A Biographical Dictionary of Artists, Andromeda

The English painter George Frederick Watts was born in London, the son of an impecunious pianomaker. At 20, he exhibited The...

See more from Credo