Watts Gallery - Artists' Village Guildford

By the time GF Watts commissioned a gallery to house his studio collection he was the grand old man of British art, celebrated at home and abroad.

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 been sensitively restored and adapted. It  was nominated for the Art Fund Prize 2012. The museum reopened Watts's Great Studio in winter 2015 following a major re-presentation project. 

Permanent collections

The gallery walls 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 an airy glass-fronted Sculpture Gallery, which 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.

Visitor information

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. Tours of Limnerslease, Watts's home and studio, take place on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.

Art we've helped buy at Watts Gallery - Artists' Village Guildford

Venue details

Watts Gallery - Artists' Village Guildford Down Lane, Compton, Guildford Surrey GU3 1DQ 01483 810235 www.wattsgallery.org.uk

Entry details

50% off with National Art Pass during exhibitions, free with National Art Pass at other times (standard entry £9.50)

Tue – Sun, 11am – 5pm

Closed Mon (except Bank Holidays)