Tuesday, 6 December 2011

What is it about Watts?

At the weekend I visited the G.F Watts Memorial Chapel in Compton, Surrey, and the gallery dedicated to his painting and sculpture. It has just been refurbished with £11 million from lottery funding, with another £100,000 needed.
It's really quite extraordinary, such a lovely gallery for such a terrible painter.
It was the first time I'd walked around an art gallery and hated everything on the walls. Well there were a couple of very free oil sketches, including one of Florence Nightingale, but he did very few of those. He favoured the large, heavy, dark history/religious paintings already out of date by the second half of the 19th Century.

Flapping round in long cloaks and strange hats, he fooled the philistine English and may be even himself. Lacking imagination and courage Watts was an utter plaigiarist; each painting a laboured pastiche of whichever artist he was keen on at the time. Despite a life of wealth and celebrity, invited into all the salons of the eminent Victorians to ply his painterly trade, he never found his own voice. His work is a lesson to all would be creative artists - if you can only imitate others, give up.
His favourite phrase was apparently, "the utmost and the highest," which probably referred to his fees. Perhaps he was the Damien and Tracey of his day?

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