George Frederic Watts England

2-23-1817 Middlesex, ENG - 7-1-1904 Surrey, ENG

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Watts, George Frederic

George Frederic Watts was delicate in health and with his mother dying while he was still young, he was home-schooled by his father in a conservative interpretation of Christianity as well as via the classics such as the Iliad. The former put him off conventional religion for life, whilst the latter was a continual influence on his art. He showed artistic promise very early, learning sculpture from the age of 10 with William Behnes, starting to devotedly study the Elgin Marbles and then enrolling as a student at the Royal Academy at the age of 18. He first exhibited at the Academy in 1837.

He came to the public eye with a drawing entitled Caractacus, which was entered for a competition to design murals for the new Houses of Parliament at Westminster in 1843. George Frederic Watts won a first prize in the competition, which was intended to promote narrative paintings on patriotic subjects, appropriate to the nation's legislature.

The prize from the Westminster competition did, however, fund a long visit to Italy from 1843 onwards, where Watts stayed and became friends with the British ambassador Henry Fox.  Also whilst in Italy, George Frederic Watts began producing landscapes and was inspired by Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel. In 1847, whilst still in Italy, Watts entered a new competition for the Houses of Parliament.

In his studio he met Henry Thoby Prinsep and his wife Sara. Watts thus joined the Prinsep circle of bohemians, including Sara's seven sisters including Virginia, with whom Watts fell in love but who married Charles, Viscount Eastnor. While living as tenant at Little Holland House, Watts's epic paintings were exhibited in Whitechapel by his friend and social reformer Canon Samuel Barnett, and he finally received a commission for the Houses of Parliament, completing his The Triumph of the Red Cross Knight in 1852-53.

In the 1860s, Watts' work shows the influence of Rossetti, often emphasizing sensuous pleasure and rich color. Among these paintings is a portrait of his young wife, the actress Ellen Terry, who was 30 years his junior.

In 1886 at the age of 69 George Frederic Watts re-married, to Mary Fraser Tytler, a Scottish designer and potter, then aged 36. In 1891 he bought land near Compton, in Surrey. The couple named the house "Limnerslease" and built the Watts Gallery nearby, a museum dedicated to his work - the first, and now the only purpose-built gallery in Britain devoted to a single artist.

Refusing the baronetcy twice offered him by Queen Victoria, he was elected as an Academician to the Royal Academy in 1867 and accepted the Order of Merit in 1902, in his own words on behalf of all English artists.

Some of Watts' other late works also seem to anticipate the paintings of Picasso's Blue Period. He was also admired as a portrait painter. His portraits were of the most important men and women of the day, intended to form a "House of Fame".

Art Movement: Symbolism
Influences: William Behnes, Alexander Constantine Ionides, Dante Rossetti
Traveled: Italy, Greece
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