- Free entry with National Art Pass.
- View venue & entry details
By the time GF Watts (1817-1904) commissioned a gallery to house his studio collection he was the grand old man of British art, celebrated at home and abroad.
Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey
The building, intended to provide 'art for all', was finished shortly before his death, and quickly became a much-loved local attraction. One hundred years later it was crumbling into decrepitude, but it has now been sensitively restored and adapted. It reopened to the public after a two-and-a-half year closure on 18 June 2011, and was nominated for the Art Fund Prize 2012.
The gallery walls (previously painted dull mushroom) now glow with deep crimson, rich greens and subtle blue-greys. They are hung with a large selection of Watts's prolific output " portraits, landscapes, sculptures, narrative paintings and allegorical works. Marking the beginning of his 70-year artistic career is a charmingly vulnerable early self portrait at the age of 17, while his maturity is represented by ambitious Symbolist works such as Time, Death and Judgement and The Sower of the Systems. Watts was trying to capture eternal spiritual truths in these allegories, but there are also subject paintings and portraits more firmly rooted in the Victorian world.
An unusual trilogy of canvases from 1849"50 depicts the sufferings of the poor: Under a Dry Arch, The Irish Famine and Found Drowned, show destitution, starvation and suicide. These themes were unusual for Watts, and he did not exhibit the pictures until long after he finished them, but they have a Dickensian power and directness.
The Gallery has a temporary exhibition space, and currently on show is a selection of the artist's works on loan from Tate (where there was a Watts room until 1938). Hope " Barack Obama's favourite picture " has been lent by a private collector.
The airy glass-fronted Sculpture Gallery is dominated by two enormous plaster models of Tennyson and Physical Energy, as well as death masks and smaller sculpted figures that Watts used for his paintings.
A short walk away is the Arts and Crafts mortuary chapel designed by Watts's wife Mary, the exterior a riot of terracotta decoration and the interior encrusted with colourful stucco angels.
Art Funded works
Watts's portrait of his friend Alexander Constantine Ionides, his wife Euterpe and their children, is an affectionate image of a young family. The two eldest boys sport Greek national costume " a proud reference to their Greek ancestry.
Miss Georgina Treherne, whom Watts nicknamed 'Bambina', shows the spirited young woman resting and singing at the artist's London studio in Little Holland House. Georgina later eloped and was disowned by her family.
Villa Petraia is an informal and fresh landscape study of the Medici villa outside Florence where Watts spent his honeymoon in 1844"5.
The café, housed in the former pottery, serves delicious lunches using local produce, and teas with homemade scones and cakes. The tables are decorated with garden flowers in jam jars and the china is delightfully old-fashioned and mismatched. In the shop are books on Victorian art, gifts, jam and eggs from a local farm.
Art we've helped buy at Watts Gallery
Free entry and exhibitions with National Art Pass (Standard entry charge is £6.50)
Tue – Sat, 11am – 5pm
Sun and Bank Holidays, 1 – 5pm
Closed Mon (except Bank Holidays)
For Christmas opening hours check the Watts Gallery website