The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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George Frederick Watts, 1817-1904

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1817.02.23
Place of Birth: Queen Street,52, Bryanston Square, Marylebone
Date of Death: 1904.07.01
Place of Death: Limmerlease, Compton


George Frederic Watts, painter, married his first wife Ellen Terry, the young actress, on 20 February 1864. However, her youth and wish for a career led to their separation after a year (they were not divorced until 1877). Terry lived with E.W. Godwin until 1875, who then married Beatrice Philip, who later became the wife of Whistler. Watts was married for a second time in 1886 to Mary Fraser Tytler (1850-1938), a Scottish designer.


Painter of portraits, historical and allegorical subjects and sculptor. Watts lived at 33 Upper Norton Street (1837); 1 Clipstone Street (1838); 14 Clipstone Street (1840). After a long trip to Italy, Watts visited Henry Thoby Prinsep and his wife, Sara, at Little Holland House, Kensington, supposedly for a short stay in 1851, but he lived there until 1875. Their home was a Bohemian centre for artists and writers like Tennyson, Julia Margaret Cameron and several young Pre-Raphaelites. Watts had been depressed when he moved in, but the Prinsep home provided him with a secure environment in which he gained confidence and he painted many portraits of the visiting eminent Victorians.

In 1865 Watts met the Manchester patron Charles Rickards, who began to buy his non-narrative symbolic paintings. This side of Watt's work was not revealed to the public until the first Grosvenor Gallery exhibition of 1877, at which he exhibited the large version of G. F. Watts, Love and Death (z.243) (z243). It was at this same exhibition that JW exhibited Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (YMSM 170), provoking Ruskin's criticism. Watts' praise of At the Piano (YMSM 24), encouraged Luke Ionides' father to commission Portrait of Luke A. Ionides (YMSM 32). Probably in December 1896, JW drew Caricature of G. F. Watts (M.1483), a reference to Watt's G. F. Watts, The Minotaur (z.242) (z242), which was exhibited in his retrospective show at the New Gallery in 1896, where it attracted little comment.

Watts lived at Melbury Road, London, and in 1881 he turned his studio into a gallery. Watts's status (and an indication of his personality) is underlined by his refusal of a baronetcy in 1885 and again in 1894. However, he accepted the new Order of Merit in 1902. In 1891 he settled at Limnerslease, in Compton, Surrey, with his second wife. A craftswoman in her own right, Mary Watts set up a pottery, designing and decorating in an Art Nouveau style the Mortuary Chapel dedicated to Watts's memory. The nearby Watts Gallery contains a representative collection of his works.


Dorment, R., Victorian High Renaissance, Minneapolis, 1978; The Annual Register, 1904, pp. 132-134; Blunt, W., 'England's Michelangelo': A Biography of George Frederic Watts, O.M., R.A., London, 1975; The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 2004).