Saturday, August 11, 2007

Watts Gallery Acquires Important Collection of Victorian Photographs

From The Times, 11 August 2007:

"The Watts Gallery at Compton in Surrey, created by the wife of the painter G. F. Watts towards the end of his life to show his paintings and store his archive, has acquired a collection of almost 5,000 Victorian photographs, almost none of them seen in public before, thanks to the generosity of one of its own trustees.

"In it we see Alma Tadema decorously leaning on the mantelpiece of his capacious studio; a youthful Ruskin with his friend Rossetti, and again at the end of his life in a dramatic profile by Frederick Hollyer, who photographed many of the Pre-Raphaelite artists; and the actress Ellen Terry [shown here] to whom Watts was briefly married when she was 16 and he 46.

"It was with his second wife, Mary, that Watts moved to Compton, near Guildford, and where she set up pottery workshops and built the gallery using local labour.

"The recording magnate and philanthropist Rob Dickins – famous for having signed Vangelis and the Sex Pistols when he was managing director of Warner Music – had already been a collector of nineteenth-century literature and correspondence, particularly about the Pre-Raphaelite painters and their circles. Over three decades he had been amassing his own archive of their lives, through which he gradually came to know them intimately, 'not just their talents but hopes, dreams, successes, and failures – almost all of them were vulnerable and flawed in their brilliance. As much as I thought I "knew" them as people, though, I had very little to go on visually.'

"Then, with the death in 1997 of Jeremy Maas, the art dealer and historian who specialised in Victoriana, he found a new dimension for his archive.

"'Jeremy Maas was one of the very few champions of Victorian art in the 1960s and 1970s, and over many years he’d put together this vast collection of Victorian photographs, many of which have never been seen in public,” Dickins said. “When I bought his archive I realised that I had the final piece of a jigsaw and my own collection became in its way, complete.'

"Then, after becoming a trustee of Watts Gallery in 2004, he realised how the sepia prints could be a resource for others. He intends the rest of his archive to go the gallery after its refurbishment.

"'The Watts Gallery in Compton is a magical place at which another, mostly lost, England exists but which unfortunately is showing the ravages of age (after all, it is over 100) and which desperately needs and is thankfully beginning to receive the support and recognition that will make it a unique venue to see the work of G. F. Watts,' he said.

"'By donating my collection to the Watts Gallery, I hope to add another facet, one in which the work and lives of Victorian artists can be studied as well as the chance to view such extraordinary people and their contemporaries at the dawn of the age of photography.'

"Last month he added a new acquisition to the gift, a drawing of the chapel the Wattses built close to the gallery, and three signed photographs of them.

"The Watts Gallery is in serious need of refurbishment and if a £10 million fundraising campaign – to which the Heritage Lottery Fund has promised to contribute £4.3 million if it can be matched – is successful by the spring, it will close next year for the work to be done on restoring the Grade II listed building and conserving the collection and archive.

"Meanwhile, a selection of 200 of the photographs will be the subject of the last temporary exhibition at the Watts before its refurbishment, opening on September 15 and running until the end of the year."

--end of The Times article--

On the Watts Gallery website, Dickins adds: “G. F. Watts was a visionary not only in art but also in the needs of society, campaigning for the poor and dispossessed as well as against the then common use of animals and birds in fashion. Watts Gallery is the best way to see and appreciate his work and the perfect home for my collection of photographs. My interest in this period was first sparked by the paintings of the Victorian artists but caught fire when I read more about the lives of Rossetti, Morris, Whistler, Solomon, Shields, Hunt, and the poet Swinburne ... with their interest in sex, drugs, and art, I think their lives were very rock’n roll.”

Subjects included in the temporary exhibition, which runs through 31 December:

Royalty and politicians: Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Gladstone, Disraeli

Influential thinkers: Ruskin, Carlyle, Darwin, J S Mill

Literary greats: Tennyson, Dickens, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins

Artists: Leighton, E J Poynter, Lady Butler, the Alma Tademas

G. F. Watts and his circle: Tennyson, Prinseps

The Pre-Raphaelites and the Aesthetic Movement: Holman Hunt, Rossetti, Burne-Jones

Artists at home in the studio: Leighton, Val Prinsep, Philip Morris

Artists’ dress and costume: Henry Holiday, Dalziel dressed up

The artist’s muse: Fanny Cornforth, Phoebe "Effie" Cookson, Edith Holman Hunt, and Margaret Burne-Jones

Satellites of the art world: John Tenniel, Phil May, George Cruikshank



Lord Likely said...


I enjoyed peeping into your web-log. A fascinating read, truly.

Keep up the fine work!

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