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George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817-1904)

George Frederic Watts, OM RA (1817-1904)

By the end his long career, George Frederic Watts had become the most revered figure in British art, and was one of first to hold the Order of Merit, when it was instituted in 1902. Inspired by the example of the Renaissance masters, he attempted to revive the tradition of history painting by producing ambitious allegories that promoted a moral message, stating that ‘I paint ideas, not things’. The allusive, often expressive results reveal an association with the Continental Symbolist movement. In addition, he was a distinctive and penetrating portraitist, and an occasional, but invariably impressive sculptor.

The final home, studio and gallery of George Frederic Watts and his second wife, Mary Seton Watts, in the Surrey village of Compton, are open to the public as the Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village, and hold the largest collection of his work.

His work is also represented in numerous public collections, including the National Portrait Gallery, Tate and the V&A; the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), Birmingham Museums Trust, Manchester Art Gallery, the Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool) and York Art Gallery; and The Art Institute of Chicago (IL).

Further reading:
Emilie Isabel Barrington,
G F Watts: Reminiscences, London: George Allen, 1905;
Mark Bills and Barbara Bryant,
G F Watts: Victorian Visionary, New Haven/London: Yale University Press/Watts Gallery Compton, 2008;
Wilfrid Blunt,
‘England’s Michelangelo’: A Biography of George Frederic Watts, OM, RA, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1975;
John Gage and Chris Mullen,
G F Watts, 1817–1904: A Nineteenth Century Phenomenon, London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1974;
Mary Seton Watts,
George Frederic Watts: The Annals of an Artist’s Life, London: Macmillan & Co, 3 vols, 1912

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