Wex Mondays: Watts Gallery
I’ve been visiting the Watt’s Gallery and Artists Village in Compton since my college days in nearby Godalming. Twenty five years on I am still overwhelmed by the beauty and tranquility of the gallery, house and the memorial chapel. The vision of the Pre-Raphaelite artists in Victorian Britain has provided me with so much inspiration throughout my artistic life. It’s not just the paintings and sculptures at the gallery that inspire me. The buildings and landscaping make The Artists Village a truly unique gallery and experience.
My chosen image for this week’s Wex Mondays challenge is of the fresco on the ceiling of the Watts Memorial Chapel. It was designed and created by Mary Watts with her student artists from the village. I love to lie on the floor and just gaze up at this incredible work of art. It is dimly lit inside to preserve the art so I had to place the camera on the floor, beside me, and shoot a long exposure to reveal the intricate details and rich colours. I did get a few odd looks!
Here are some excerpts from the Watts Gallery website to give you further insight into this amazing place and the people behind it:
George Frederic Watts OM, RA (1817 – 1904) was widely considered to be the greatest painter of the Victorian era. A portraitist, sculptor, landscape painter and symbolist, Watts’s work embodied the most pressing themes and ideas of the time, earning him the title England’s Michelangelo.
In the 1880s Watts had the benefits of a reputation that was secure, and he was able to explore grand themes in his allegorical paintings or, as he described them, ‘poems painted on canvas.’. Watts built a gallery extension onto his studio home at Little Holland House, Kensington, and opened it to the public from 2 to 6pm every weekend. His belief that art should be accessible to all was reflected in this project and in his support of schemes that took art into the poor areas of London through exhibitions and the creation of new galleries
In 1886, at the age of 69, Watts second marriage to Scottish potter and designer Mary Seton Fraser-Tytler took place in Epsom Surrey. A few years later they leased land at Compton and commissioned Arts & Crafts architect Sir Ernest George to build their house and studios, Limnerslease, which proved to be a tranquil haven for them both in their last years. Their marriage was very much a creative partnership melded by the shared ethos that art should reach all, transforming the lives that it touched.
In 1903 Watts created a purpose-built gallery and moved all his paintings from Little Holland House Gallery to the Compton Gallery (now known as Watts Gallery), which opened to the public on 1 April 1904.
Shortly before his death in 1904, Watts Gallery was opened to the public, by which time G F Watts was a household name, both nationally and internationally. Mary had designed the nearby Watts Chapel, funded by Watts, who also painted a version of The All-Pervading for the altar only three months before he died.
During his last years Watts also turned to sculpture, completing his most famous work, Physical Energy, in 1902. The original cast remains in the gallery today. Bronze casts are also replicated in Cape Town and in London’s Kensington Gardens.
Mary Watts was the artistic force behind the creation of Watts Chapel, and she dedicated it to ‘the loving memory of all who find rest near its walls, and for the comfort and help of those to whom the sorrow of separation remains.‘
In 1895 Mary began to run evening Terracotta Classes at Limnerslease, the Wattses’ nearby residence and studio. At these classes Mary would teach local villagers how to model tiles from local terracotta clay with the beautiful and symbolic patterns that she had designed to decorate the walls of the Chapel.
G F Watts financed the building of the Chapel through painting commissioned portraits, and the Wattses presented it as their gift to the village of Compton. Watts Chapel remains a working village parish chapel to this day.