George Frederick Watts, (born Feb. 23,
1817, London—died July 1, 1904, Compton, Surrey, Eng.), English
painter and sculptor of grandiose allegorical themes.
Watts believed that art should
preach a universal message, but his subject matter, conceived in
terms of vague abstract ideals, is full of symbolism that is often
obscure and today seems superficial.
Watts attended the Royal Academy sporadically between 1835 and 1837,
exhibiting among other works “The Wounded Heron” (1837; Watts
He twice won competitions for the decoration of the Houses of
Parliament, and although neither design was ever carried out in
fresco, the prize money enabled him to go to Florence in 1843 and to
visit Rome and Naples between 1843 and 1847; the most obvious
Italian influence in his work is that of Titian.
The most famous of his later works,
“Hope” (1886; version in the Tate Gallery, London), is ambiguous and
may be ironic in meaning.
Although he tended to despise portrait painting, Watts completed
many shrewdly observed portraits of his famous contemporaries,
notably that of Cardinal Manning (1882; National Portrait Gallery,
London). The house in which he died now contains a permanent
collection of his works.