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05/02/12

George Frederic WATTS (1817-1904)












Watts called these three paintings The Eve Trilogy. They represent Eve’s ascension to life, her temptation and her grief after her downfall. In her temptation she is shown greedily entwined with the apple tree. The dissolving forms of the central work correspond to the idea of Eve rising up in an explosion of light and colour. By contrast, the heaviness of flesh in the final work suggests her burden of sin and guilt.
























In this painting Watts wanted to express the spirit governing the system he called 'the immeasurable expanse'. A heavily-draped figure which is enveloped by large wings gazes deep into a globe or crystal ball held at the centre of the composition. Despite its weighty robes the figure appears to defy gravity as it hovers mysteriously in space.
Like Michelangelo's sibyls on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Watts' figure appears monumental and androgynous, qualities which suggest a higher knowledge of the universe.





The Minotaur: 1885
In Greek mythology the Minotaur, half-man, half-bull, was appeased by the annual sacrifice of virgins brought from mainland Athens to Crete. Watts shows the creature gazing out to sea in eager anticipation of his prey; the small bird crushed by his mighty fist symbolizes the purity and vulnerability of youth.
The painting was inspired by a lurid exposure of the traffic in child prostitution by a journalist named WT Stead. The article called 'The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon' and published in the Pall Mall Gazette in July 1885, was intended as an indictment of male lust.



























Hope (1886) is undoubtedly the most influential, striking, memorable and strange of all George Frederic Watts' paintings. This sad musician has struck a chord with audiences and critics from the first time it was exhibited at the fashionable Grosvenor Gallery in 1886. The following year at the epic 'Royal Jubilee' exhibition in Manchester it was placed in the middle of an entire wall of his work, taking its place as the symbolic and artistic centre of his achievement. Since then, reproductions have spread Hope around the world. During his lifetime, Watts received letters testifying to its emotional impact on those who saw it. Even today, I know one woman who carries a reproduction in her wallet, and a man who can quote a poem he wrote about it in his youth.



George Frederic WATTS (1817-1904)-English Pre-Raphaelite/Symbolist Painter and Sculptor
Watts became famous in his lifetime for his allegorical works, such as Hope (see image) and Love and Life. These paintings were intended to form part of an epic symbolic cycle called the "House of Life", in which the emotions and aspirations of life would all be represented in a universal symbolic language.
Watts was born in Marylebone, London on the birthday of George Frederic Handel (after whom he was named), to the second wife of a poor piano-maker. Delicate in health and with his mother dying while he was still young, he was home-schooled by his father in a conservative interpretation of Christianity as well as via the classics such as the Iliad - the former put him off conventional religion for life, whilst the latter was a continual influence on his art. He showed artistic promise very early, learning sculpture from the age of 10 with William Behnes, starting to devotedly study the Elgin Marbles (later writing "It was from them alone that I learned") and then enrolling as a student at the Royal Academy at the age of 18. He also began his portraiture career, receiving patronage from his close contemporary Alexander Constantine Ionides, with whom he later came to be close friends. He came to the public eye with a drawing entitled Caractacus, which was entered for a competition to design murals for the new Houses of Parliament at Westminster in 1843. Watts won a first prize in the competition, which was intended to promote narrative paintings on patriotic subjects, appropriate to the nation's legislature. In the end Watts made little contribution to the Westminster decorations, but from it he conceived his vision of a building covered with murals representing the spiritual and social evolution of humanity.

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