Watts, George Frederick


Watts, George Frederick


Watts, George Frederick (1817-1904), English painter and sculptor


Omeka record contributed by Albertine Lee

Date Submitted

November 17, 2016

Birth Date

February 23, 1817


52 Queenstreet, Bryanston Square, Marylebone, London

Death Date

July 1, 1904



Biographical summary

At a young age, George Frederick Watts was discovered to have great artistic talent. Under the guidance of draughtsman turned sculptor William Behnes, Watts created drawings that attained him admission to the Royal Academy in 1835. However, the young Watts soon left the Academy after finding that there was nothing to be learned there. Watts continued to have an extremely rapid and great success, after contributing several portraits to the Academy Exhibition in 1837, 1838, and 1840. He also produced subject-pictures, which were exhibited at the British Institution, and entered and won competitions at prestigious locations including the Houses of Parliament. The prize money allowed Watts to travel extensively around Italy for several years, studying Venetian painting, in particular, before returning to London in 1847. Not only was Watts successful in producing notable portraiture, subject-paintings, and historical works, the artist was also preoccupied with allegorical paintings that reflect his ideas of nature and humanity. As an advocate for the public commissions of art, Watts was interested in producing large-scale paintings in fresco to adorn public buildings. Watts’s close acquaintance with Lord Holland, then the English Envoy in Florence, and the Prinsep family allowed him to closely associate with a circle of “bohemians” at the Holland House, which included Julia Margaret Cameron and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Under the encouragement of Taylor and Sara Prinsep, the forty-six-year-old Watts married Ellen Terry, a sixteen-year-old actress, on 20 February 1864. They divorced after Terry eloped with another man after less than a year of marriage. In 1867, the artist was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, and in a mere two years, a Royal Academician in 1868. By the 1880s, Watts’s reputation as a distinguished painter was effectively secured; the painter had achieved an international celebrity status. He pursued his ambition of working on non-narrative symbolic works, introducing ideas of death and spiritualism. In 1886, Watts married his second wife, Mary Seton-Fraser-Tytler, with whom he purchased a piece of land in Compton in Surrey in 1890. The house, built by Ernest George, was named Limnerslease. Throughout the 1890s and early 1900s, Watts continued to send paintings to various exhibition venus, despite the deteroriation of his health. He died of old age at 6 Melbury Road on Friday, 1 July 1904.


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Bayliss, Wyke, Sir, 1835-1906. Five Great Painters of the Victorian Era: Leighton, Millais, Burne-Jones, Watts, Holman Hunt. London: S. Low, Marston and co., Ltd., 1902.
Watts, Mary S. Fraser-Tytler. George Frederic Watts. London: Macmillan, 1912.
Blunt, Wilfrid, 1901-1987. England's Michelangelo: a Biography of George Frederic Watts, O.M., R.A.. London: Hamilton, 1975.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Victorian High Renaissance: George Frederic Watts 1817-1904, Frederic Leighton 1830-96, Albert Moore 1841-93, Alfred Gilbert 1854-1934 : an Exhibition Organized by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Minneapolis: The Institute, 1978.
Barrington, Russell, Mrs., -1933. Essays On the Purpose of Art: Past And Present Creeds of English Painters. London: Longmans, Green and co., 1911.
Bryant, Barbara Coffey. "Watts, George Frederic (1817-1904)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2004). doi: 10.1093/ref:odnb/36781.




Watts, George Frederick

Cite As

“Watts, George Frederick,” Victorian Artists at Home, accessed July 23, 2024, https://artistsathome.emorydomains.org/items/show/105.

Item Relations

This Item dcterms:relation Item: G. F. WATTS, R.A.
This Item dcterms:relation Item: GEORGE FREDERICK WATTS, R.A., LL.D.
Item: New Little Holland House, Studio-home of G. F. Watts dcterms:relation This Item