Opened earlier this year, the George Frederic Watts Studio is the latest phase of the Watts Gallery Artists Village, a hidden treasure trove of Pre-Raphaelite art and design, focussed on the work of the artist and sculptor George Frederick Watts and his wife Mary, located in Compton near Guildford in Surrey.
The Studio has been conserved and reopened with several works borrowed from the Tate Gallery to recreate the original collection including “The Court of Death” (c.1870–1902), Watts’s last major work which is displayed on a replica of the original pulley system Watt designed to allow him to enable the canvas to rise and fall down through the floor so that he could work on it all at one time.
Adjacent is the studio of his wife Mary which includes a highly decorative frieze rescued from the Cambridge Military Hospital Chapel in Aldershot and, at the current time, a loan exhibition of enamels by the Scottish artist Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936), a key figure in the Arts & Crafts Movement.
Designed by architects ZMMA, the project used photographs from Watt’s lifetime for the refurbishment of the main rooms and includes a new public entrance, conservation studio and staircase – shamelessly contemporary but respecting the character of the original Arts and Crafts House and, while it appears a little stark at the moment, it will mellow with time.
Watts was one of the most popular late nineteenth century English artists and sculptors. In 1886, when he was 69 years old, he married his second wife Mary Fraser Tytler, a Scottish designer and potter over thirty years his junior and, in 1891, he bought the land in Compton on which they built their house and studio “Limnerslease” and the Watts Gallery in which to show his work, the only purpose-built gallery in Britain devoted to a single artist, which opened in T1904.
The Watts Gallery was designed in Arts and Crafts style with traditional top-lit galleries. Re-opened in 2011 following a refurbishment also designed by ZMMA architects, over 100 of Watt’s paintings are on display, plus there is a sculpture studio and special exhibition galleries. Also based here is the De Morgan Centre, which was previously based in Wandsworth including a gallery showing the work of William De Morgan and his wife the painter Evelyn De Morgan – Wandsworth’s loss!