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Happy birthday Mr G F Watts

Last week would have been the 200th birthday of England’s (and Surrey’s) Michelangelo, and to celebrate the occasion Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village in Compton has launched a programme of events – Watts 200 – featuring exhibitions and events focusing on the life, works and legacy of this great artist.

The events and exhibitions are taking place throughout the rest of the year, and kicked off last Thursday with the launch of a new book, The Art of GF Watts by Nicholas Tromans, Brice Curator of the Watts Gallery and Artists’ Village.

But, if your art history is a little rusty, let me first tell you a bit about Mr Watts. The main thing to know is that in his day GF Watts was a big cheese in the art world as both a painter and sculptor. He was said to be the greatest painter of the Victorian era, and was so popular and acclaimed, he was dubbed ‘England’s Michelangelo’. He once said ‘I paint ideas, not things’, which I think is rather lovely.

He lived for most of his life in central London, with stints in France and Italy, and moved to the pretty village of Compton, near Guildford, in 1891 at the age of 74 with his second and much younger wife Mary Watts (his first marriage, although brief, was also to a woman 30 years his junior).

The move to Surrey came so that GF and Mary Watts could escape the social demands of London, as well as the smog and dull winters, and together they opened Compton Gallery, which is today called Watts Gallery.

If you’ve not yet stumbled upon Watts Gallery and the Watts’ nearby home, Limnerslease, it’s well worth a visit.  And with so much going on in this bicentenary year, now is obviously a good time to go.

Here’s the What’s Watt (see what I did there), of GF Watt’s bicentenary year.

Monumental Murals – Tues 28 Feb to 5 Nov – Watts Gallery

GF Watts (1817-1904), Study for ‘Alfred Inciting the Saxons to Prevent the Landing of the Danes’, c1846. Watercolour. Watts Gallery Trust

This is first exhibition to explore and showcase Watts’s mural projects, including the first public display of Apollo and Diana (1855). The show will bring together, for the first time, two rare fragments painted by Watts in the 1850s for grand private homes.

A Life in Art: G F Watts 1817-1904 – Tues 28 Feb to 5 Nov – Watts Gallery

GF Watts (1817-1904), Self-Portrait Study known as Fear’, c1835-36. Charcoal. Watts Gallery Trust

This exhibition will give you an introduction to G F Watts, taking you on a chronological journey through his life and showing some of his finest drawings.

Watts Lecture: A Letter to G F Watts – 13 Mar – Charterhouse School, Godalming

Christopher Le Brun, one of the great English painters and sculptors of modern times, and president of the Royal Academy of Arts, will talk about painting today, his own work and what G F Watts has to say to contemporary artists. The lecture starts at 7.30 and tickets are £10. Book here.

Freshwater –  Fri 24 and Sat 25 March – Watts Gallery

Compton Little Theatre presents a costumed reading of Virginia Woolf’s comedy Freshwater. Set on the Isle of Wight, Freshwater features G F Watts, Tennyson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Ellen Terry and Queen Victoria. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £15. Book here.

An Evening of Victorian Song – Wed 24 May – Watts Gallery

Pianist and broadcaster David Owen Norris presents an evening of Victorian music, recreating Watts’s 80th birthday party featuring classical music by G F Handel and popular Victorian songs. It starts at 7pm and tickets are £15. Book here.

G F Watts: England’s Michelangelo – 20 June to 26 Nov– Watts Gallery

A showcase featuring a number of the artist’s most important works from museum and private collections brought together for the first time. This exhibition will draw attention to the wide range of topics Watts treated, from Symbolism, social realism and spirituality to portraiture, philanthropy and pictorial allegory. Highlights will include one of the nation’s top 10 favourite paintings – the iconic Choosing (1864), which portrays Watts’s charismatic teenage muse, and first wife, Ellen Terry.

And if all these events were not enough, Watts Gallery Trust has commissioned a new cast of G F Watts’s monumental equestrian sculpture, Physical Energy, recognised as the artist’s most famous work.  The cast will be completed during the Watts 200 year and will be sited in the public realm, completing the bicentenary celebrations and standing as a beacon of creativity for the region.

Watts Gallery and Artists’ Village, Down Lane, Compton, GU3 1DQ. Tel: 01483 810235.



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