» George Watts Biography
by Susan Belmont - January 5, 2004
George Watts was one of the most important painters and sculptors of the 19th century. In though he was acquainted with members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, his paintings went beyond their style and helped revolutionize the way portraits were made until then.
Modesty Hiding A Great Talent
George Frederick Watts was born in London, UK, in 1817, son of a piano-maker. At the age of 10, he started to study sculpture with William Behnes, and at the age of 18 he enroled in the RA Schools, where he studied fine arts for a short period of time.
These would be the only formal education he had and afterwards he would develop his style by himself. He became a predominant painter after he exhibited his painting The Wounded Heron at the Royal Academy.
After earning a prize for his painting Caractacus, he went to Italy with some friends and remained in Florence until 1847, when he went back to England to compete in a House of Lords contest, in which he earned the first prize for his painting Alfred.
In 1850, he started his 30 years residence in the house of the Prinseps family at Holland Park. The members of this family were friends with several of the best artists of the time like Thackeray, Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelites Rossetti and Burne-Jones, which helped Watts' circle of friends grow.
George Watts was more a painter of portraits and some important artists were portrayed by him, like Tennyson, Lord Leighton, the Terry sisters, Sir Richard Burton, among others.
But he also stood out as a sculptor, and his main sculpture was the proud figure of a warrior on horseback called Physical Energy and he's known for being a symbolist painter of unusual and mystic images.
In 1864, Watts married the 16 years old actress Ellen Terry, considered the best dramatic actress of England of the 19th century, but the marriage didn't last long, because of her youth and wish for a career. Although they separated one year later, they only divorced in 1877.
One of the most important people in his life was Charles Rickards, whom he met in 1865 and who became his patron and sponsored several exhibits of his works.
He moved to the Isle of Wight in 1875, where he lived until 1881 when he moved back to London and made of his studio a gallery. When he moved in 1886 to Limnerslease, he was married to Mary Fraser-Tytler, who was a Scottish designer and who would remain his wife until his death in 1904.
George Watts was very popular and respected in his days, having refused several titles and honors and accepted only the Order of Merit in 1902.
He once said:
"I paint ideas, not things. I paint primarily because I have something to say, and since the gift of eloquent language has been denied to me, I use painting; my intention is not so much to paint pictures which shall please the eye, as to suggest great thoughts which shall speak to the imagination and to the heart and arouse all that is best and noblest in humanity."
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Copyright © 2004 Susan Belmont