Exploring the relationship between two of the Victorian era’s most important artists.
GF Watts and Frederic Leighton were friends for more than 40 years; as neighbours in Holland Park they would often call on each other through the gate that connected their gardens. Watts declared ‘unbounded admiration’ for Leighton, while in return Leighton said Watts was ‘a marvellous fellow’ who, had he been in better health, ‘would whip us all, if he doesn’t already’.
In order to explore the depth of their artistic relationship, this exhibition brings together works from the two single-artist collection at Watts Gallery and Leighton House for display in parallel. Taking drawings specifically as the focus – the skill they admire most in each other – it reveals not only the similarities in the size, subject and scope of their work, but also illuminates the key differences in their approaches to the medium.
For Leighton drawing was almost exclusively functional. His sketches of nudes, seated figures and drapery were created solely as the source material from which to construct his paintings. On display here are the prepatory works he did for masterpieces such as ‘Return of Persephone’ and 'Antique Juggling Girl’.
While Watts would similarly use drawing as a way to plan out his easel paintings, he also saw it as a medium of expression in its own right. A naturally talented draughtsman, the display includes sketches he composed aged just ten years old, as well as those created later in his career in which he can be seen to experiment with new techniques that he then filtered into his painting.