ARTS: WATTS STUDIO OPENING, COMPTON
It’s true I’m not much of a connoisseur of art. I barely know my Rubens from my Rembrandts, my Van Dycks from my Van Goghs.
I do own some lovely original paintings, although I have no idea if they’re any good. One was given to me and Mr Muds by a close friend after she heard we’d eloped. (That’s a whole other story…) She was volunteering in Africa at the time, and it’s by a local artist. My grandmother, too, was a dab hand with a brush, and I have several of her paintings on my walls.
But I digress. I must tell you about the studios of George Frederic Watts, which have been given a major spruce up and opened to the public for the first time ever.
In his day, GF Watts was extremely famous. He was said to be the greatest painter of the Victorian era, and was so popular and acclaimed, he was once dubbed “England’s Michelangelo”. He moved to the pretty village of Compton, near Guildford, in 1891 with his second and much younger wife Mary Watts to escape the smog, dull winters and *ahem* the social demands of London.
The studios – a grand space in the house designed for the Watts by Arts and Crafts architect Ernest George – are across the road from Watts Gallery which opened just before his death in 1904, as a gallery for his work. That space, too, underwent a major tart up a few years ago.
The setting here is stonkingly gorgeous. A slow winding path leads up through woods, slowly revealing Limnerslease – the house and studios. The star attraction among these inter-connecting studio spaces is the GF Watts Studio. It’s a vast cathedral-like room with light flooding in on the dramatic red walls through a beautiful south-facing window. Unfinished canvases are displayed, without frames, on easels or suspended from the rafters. Paints and brushes are strewn on a table, alongside letters written by Watts. There are no barriers in place, so there’s a real feeling of having wandered into Watts’ personal studio space.
A massive canvas, The Court of Death, hangs on an entire wall facing the window, on loan from the Tate but returned now to its original home. A gigantic window, like a post box on its side, was built so the artwork could be manoeuvred into the space from outside.
Mary, of course, was a super talented artist in her own right and designer for Liberty’s in London, and right next door to Watts’ studio, a more modest space shows off her work. Mary worshipped her husband, and devoted much of her life to preserving and maintaining his legacy. This studio space is the first time dedicated to her work.
Watts Studio is open every Tuesday to Sunday.
Watts Gallery, Down Lane, Compton, GU3 1DQ. Tel: 01483 813593. wattsgallery.org.uk