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George Frederick Watts



English Symbolist Painter

Stylistically influenced by the following painters and sculptors -William Behnes, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Frederick LeightonRaphael, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais

Cause of Death - old age


George Frederick Watts was born in London in 1817. He was frequently ill during childhood and spent a great deal of time in bed drawing stories for himself. His first major success as painter took place in the spring of 1843. Watts entered the competition for the decoration of the Houses of Parliament and won the prize of £300 for his drawing of "Caractacus led Captive through the Streets of Rome." He brilliant depiction of historical personalities impressed the judges and set the stage for a lucrative art career. His fellow competitors included historical painter Benjamin Haydon.  Haydon whom was beset by financial difficulties became so upset over the younger artists win that he took his own life.

 Watts used his winnings to travel to Italy where he stayed with expat aristocracy, Lord and Lady Holland. According to Art historian, William Loftus Hare "Italy, and particularly Florence, was perpetual fascination and inspiration to Watts. There he imbibed the influences of Orcagna and Titian—influences, indeed, which were clearly represented in the next monumental painting which he attempted. It came about that Lord Holland persuaded his guest to enter a fresh competition for the decoration of the Parliament Houses, and Watts carried off the prize with his "Alfred inciting the Saxons to resist the landing of the Danes." The colour and movement of the great Italian masters, conspicuously absent from the "Caractacus" cartoon, were to be seen in this new effort, where, as has been said, the English king stands like a Raphaelesque archangel in the midst of the design."

In 1864 the paunchy middle-aged Watts was smitten by a beautiful young actress young enough to be his daughter. The artist courted Miss Ellen Terry with old fashioned gallantry and road to her home on a white horse begging her to marry him. The older painter and  teenage actress were wed and moved into Little Holland House. As soon as the nuptials were over the artist quickly became irritated by his 16 year old brides constant shopping trips and extravagant spending on entertainment. The marriage brief and turbulent exasperating Watts tendency towards depression. According to William Loftus Hare, "To his intimate friends Watts, who was so introspective, often complained of "the duality of my nature." In the midst of affairs, financial or worldly, on questions of criticism, personal conduct and the like, the great artist was variable and uncertain. Though humble and self-deprecatory to an extreme degree, he made mistakes from which he could escape only with great difficulty; and he suffered much from depression and melancholy."

The aging painter continued to earn great renown for his luminous portraits and monumental allegorical paintings. Watts painting style is characterized by a highly dramatic, heroic manner. He depicted biblical personalities, Mythic Heroes and Heroines as celestial beings, both physically and spiritually alive.  His unusual spiritually charged visionary style generated a handsome income.  Towards the end of his life Watts gave most of his work to British museums.


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References Watts (1817-1904), by William Loftus Hare