Russell Barrington.

G.F. Watts; reminiscences online

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" To this life things of sense

Make their pretence ;
In th' other angels have a right by birth ;

Man ties them both., alone.

And makes them one ;
With th" one hand touching heavn ; luith th* other, earth.

*' In soul, he mounts and flies ,-
In flesh he dies.
He nvears a stuj", whose thread is coarst and round.
But trimmed ivith curious lace ;
ylnd should take place
After the trimming, not the stuff and ground."

— " Mans Medley," George Herbert.




r88i ,iioihZ liosD yd gxiiixii^'i rnoi'^

From Painting by Cecil Schott, 1887




author of "the reality of the spiritual life,"

"Lena's picture," "Helen's ordeal,"

"A retrospect," etc.

" What :s, is, — and one should not desire to make it seem to be other "

G- F. Watt«-



[All rights reserved]


Reprinted November 1905

Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson &* Co.
At the Ballantyne Press





In attempting to record these reminiscences of our great
artist at so early a date after his death it is obviously-
impossible even to allude to many things connected with
his memory. Characteristic and interesting though they
be, this is also no moment to publish the numerous letters
he wrote and which I have preserved. They were written
after Watts' powers, artistic and intellectual, had reached
their maturity, and forming as they do an analysis of his
character and nature, a record of his life of thought and
work as also of his general views on art, they might at
some future date prove of value in helping to elucidate the
nature, not only of the artist, but of the man. It was
about the time when this correspondence began, and during
the subsequent twelve years of his life, that Watts painted
the works into which he consciously put most of himself — his
aims and his ideas — and these will probably be those pic-
tures by which his fame will be sustained and most last-
ingly secured, though there are some canvasses, which
evince, I think, more distinctly his instinctive individual

Put into the form more or less of letters, this corre-
spondence might be considered in the light of a series of
short essays. Watts found ordinary letter-writing most
irksome, but when he discovered that he possessed a
facility for jotting down his thoughts and ideas with his pen


he appears to have taken great interest in so doing. At
one time he was in the habit of scribbling down a thought
that might strike him at the moment on any scrap of paper
that might be at hand, on every kind of subject. As these
generally referred to conversations he had had with my
husband and myself, he would often give these jottings to
me by way of continuing the argument. I find I have for-
tunately preserved many of these jottings with his letters.
On every scrap of paper is an idea, valuable as a criticism
on art, morals, or manners. The first letter I possess is
dated April 7, 1876 — the last, April 2, 1904. Besides the
more important letters, there are many notes which are
only personally interesting as recalling little daily events
that were characteristic of the life Watts was leading at
the time they were written. In re-reading these letters the
thought came — will there ever be an exhaustive Life written
of the man who penned them } There is ever the same
difficulty as regards biographies. When interest is keenest,
it is then precisely the moment when it is hardly wise or
seemly to challenge criticism by endeavouring to write a
complete estimate of a notable individuality. When, in
the future, certain difficulties no longer exist, even greater
arise. Those who could have given a true and subtle
atmosphere and vividness to the picture, editing the letters
with a full knowledge of the circumstances and feelings
which incited the writing of them — these will also have
passed behind the veil. And not only does time rob the
world of the right biographer, but also of the interested
reader. No time seems exactly the best moment when a
full biography should be written. Unless the history of great
public events or discussions, having a literary or political
value and interest, are connected with the personal life of an
individual, there remains no vivid desire to know the vraie


v^riU, which a true record could give, of the character and
motives of the dead, when the generation who was influenced
by the power and charm of the personality has also passed
away. It is only natural this should be so. Besides the fact
that the stream of life quickly passes on to other pastures in
which the vitality of the present absorbs the energies of
those who stamp their own age with most vitality, a completely
truthful portrait, we all know, cannot be written solely through
facts being transmitted second-hand. The side lights, the
unacknowledged, sometimes even unconscious influences, the
delicate shading and correct inferences which all help to
make the picture a true, just, and merciful record of the
life of a notable human being — a record which adds to the
world's treasures by adding to men's knowledge of men —
can only be supplied by one who was in the life when it was
being lived. Facts that every man in the street thinks he
knows, falsify, as often as they elucidate, the estimate of a
character. " The lie which is half a truth is ever the worst
of lies," and facts, from which perverted deductions are
invented, can lead to conceptions which are completely

Many think that the canvasses of great painters are
their best biographies. In the case of Watts, though his
art is extraordinarily consistent as regards certain qualities
and intentions, his pictures are extraordinarily unequal as
regards others. Moreover, as one who, besides his univer-
sally acknowledged greatness as an artist is viewed by one
section of the public as a thinker and a moralist, Watts'
position in the interest of his generation differs distinctly
from that of most painters. That many of the qualities in his
Celtic nature and genius could inspire a very special affection
and interest, many friends can testify. An attempt to write
an impartial criticism of one who was possessed of such an


unusual power of sympathy and of so much personal charm
would at any time be difficult ; at this moment it would seem
impossible. My object in writing the following pages is to
record accurately those things which have reference to my
husband's and my own personal friendship with Watts
during many years of his life — to give to the future a
page of contemporary history, which, though by no means
exhaustive, is correct.

E. I. B.




In Rossetti's studio— " Lady Lilith"— "The Beloved "—Ruskin and Arthur
Hughes as masters — First impression of Watts — Reference to his por-
traits of Mrs. Nassau Senior ; Miss Senior (Mrs. Simpson) ; Miss Eden
(Mrs. Cox); Miss Russell; "Choosing" — Letter of introduction from
Mrs. Nassau Senior to Watts — Visit with Mr. Barrington to the old
Little Holland House in 1868 — Visit to Freshwater, Easter 1873 —
First lesson from Watts — Visits to the new Little Holland House —
Quotation from Watts' letter respecting help in his work — Mrs. Nassau
Senior's death, and that of Walter Bagehot on March 24, 1877 . . 1-7



New Little Holland House — Watts' aim to raise the art of England — Watts
as a portrait painter — His sympathy with the pre-Raphaelite school
— Indifference respecting the making of money — Strong views as to
patriotism — Feelings as to the absolute necessity of isolating himself
from the outside world — Equestrian statue of the Duke of Westminster's
ancestor Hugh Lupus — Watts' depreciation of his own powers — Con-
sciousness of aiming towards the highest in Art— Refers to the heroic
sentiment in Art — Technical difficulties — Value of portrait painting —
Watts' combination of knowledge and instinctive sense for form and
colour — Criticism of the methods of teaching in art schools — His early
strict religious training — Recognition of the value of the "golden thread"
which inspired his highest aims 8-21





Watts' constant depreciation of self— Celtic in nature but a pupil of Pheidias
— Ruskin's opinion regarding his studying Greek Art — Letters from
Ruskin to Watts — Advice to study botany — Watts' patron, Mr. lonides
— First commission— Early pictures — Portraits of the lonides' family,
Miss M. K. Brunton, "Aurora," "The Wounded Heron"— Visit to
Lord Holland in Italy — Journey with Sir Charles Newton to Greece
— Visit to Embassy at Constantinople — Italy stimulating to Watts'
genius — Influence of Orgagna and Titian — Return to England — Pic-
tures painted between 1848 and 1876— Wall paintings in Charles Street
and in Little Holland House— " Life's Illusions," "Time and Oblivion,"
"The Good Samaritan," "Found Drowned," "Under a Dry Archway,"
"The Song of the Shirt," "Irish Peasants during the Famine"— Lists
of pictures — Influence of sitters on his own creative power — "Watch-
man, what of the Night"? "Ophelia," " Clytie," "Joachim," "Hope,"
"Walter Crane" — No direct personal influence in " Sic Transit," "The
Minotaur," "Jonah" — Slav and Celt — Similarity in their languages
traced by Nietzsche, also in music of Tchaikovsky and art of Watts — ■
Differences traced— Parthenon Frieze, Michael Angelo's "Slave" and
Watts' "Clytie" — Typical example of melancholy Celt in Brittany
Arthurian legends — Pierre Loti's " Pecheurs d'Islande" — The indefinite
notes reflecting the contrasts of life sounded in Watts' art— Reference to
design on cover 22-47



In Behne's studio — Knight's adverse criticism of Elgin Marbles — Haydon's
discovery of their true worth — Watts' keen interest in Pheidian frag-
ments — Sculptor's studio in new Little Holland House — First sketches
for "Vital Energy" — Description of principle underlying the value of a
"good" line discovered by Watts — Method of working adopted for
"Hugh Lupus,'' "Vital Energy," and "Aurora" — Ingenious invention
for making changes in design — "Aurora" — "Daphne" — Mr. Stanley's
monument at Holyhead 48-56





Watts' friendship inspiring — His distinct personality — Mrs. Nassau Senior
— Lady Catherine Barrington — Monotony of Watts' outward life —
Notes referred to, recalling neighbourly intercourse — Building of a
studio in garden of Melbury House — Casts of Parthenon Frieze and of
figures from the Nike Athena Temple. — Watts' lessons on these —
Description of Watts' manner of painting — Evening visits to studio —
Books and conversation — Mr. Augustine Birrell's lecture at Leighton
House — Mrs. W. R. Greg's letter in Sir M. Grant-Duff's " Notes from a
Diary" — Madame Mohl's salon — Watts' admiration for paintings by
Etty — Interest in Haydon — Intolerance of "bores" — Conversation which
led Watts to offer works to the nation — Tate Gallery — Article written
1878, "Is a Great School of Art possible in the Present Day?" — In-
spires Watts' thoughts on various subjects — Papers sent in to author
published under the title " The Present Conditions of Art," Nitieteenth
Century, February 1880 — Watts disclaimed possessing originality —
Watts adopts Titian's method of painting as described by Boschini —
Models for "Uldra," "The rain it raineth every day" — Portraits of
Dorothy Dene — Watts' wish to build Gallery — Canon and Mrs. Barnett's
enterprise for yearly picture Exhibitions in Whitechapel — Watts' and
Leighton's help — Visits from poor of Whitechapel to Watts' Gallery —
Lists of pictures — Love of music — Interest in photography — His adopted
daughter "Blanche" and her cousins' visit to Little Holland House —
Watts' paintings from old Little Holland House — Original designs and
enlarged copies of Flaxman's designs for Dante's '■'•Inferno'''' and
" Paradiso" — Finishes Mr. Barrington's portrait — Group of heads
painted in miniature on ivory — Grosvenor Gallery, 1882 — American
Exhibition, 1885-6 — Watts' views as to money — Negotiations for the
purchase of pictures from the Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition — Leighton's
suggestion re Chantrey Bequest — Watts' interest in published criticisms
— Letter respecting criticism in Times on Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition
— Higher and wider appreciation of Watts' art — Exhibition in New York
— Mr. Frank Millett's help — Preface to Catalogue — Unparalleled suc-
cess of pictures — Pictures remain till October 1886 — Preface to Cata-
logue reprinted. " The Duality of my Nature" — Misunderstanding
with critics — Income-tax demanded on his work — Refusal of baronetcy
— Two disturbing episodes in autumn and winter of 1885 — Difficulties
in attaining consistency in theory and action — Religion — Effects of early


evangelical teaching on Watts' nature — Roman Catholicism unsym-
pathetic to Watts — Favourite chapter in the Bible — Henry Drumniond's
books — Freedom of thought and investigation claimed as the right of
all — Sympathy with "extreme people" — Prince Krapotkin — Mazzini's
appreciation of "Time and Oblivion" — Quotation from letter — Admira-
tion for Count Tolstoi's writings — Quotation from letter in 1886 — Watts
felt his life should be in tune with the best— Beauty in nature religion
in itself to Watts and Leighton — Quotation from Leighton's address
to the Royal Academy Students in 1881 ...... 57-159



Easter Day, April 25, 1886, in Somerset — Letter dated "Tuesday, Sunrise,
Melbury Road" — Offer for "Hope" — Quotation from letter referring
to red chalk drawing of "The Daughter of Duty and Introspection"
— In autumn of 1886 tries pastels — "Brynhildr" sold to author — Money
anxieties — Class in Iron Studio — Mr. Henry Moore — Illness — Doctor's
desire for him to leave England — Copies of pictures executed by Cecil
Schott — First letter from Malta — New Year's letter from foot of Great
Pyramid — Writes from Assouan — Hamilton Aid^ — Baths at Helwan —
Constantinople — Athens — Charm of drapery seen in Egypt — Return
home — Winter of 1887-8 tries Malta — Changed plans — Intends to paint
a few things for money, not portraits — Dangerously ill — Sent to Naples
— Impressed with beauty of natural effects in South — Writes from Men-
tone — Split between Grosvenor Gallery and Secretaries — Refers to Burne-
Jones' future place — Protests against Mammon worship — Great admira-
tion for Leighton — "Angel and Child" (Death crowning Innocence) to
be given to the nation — Unexpected strain on income — "Naples" and
" View of St. Agnese from Mentone"' — Next winter tried Brighton —
Feels "really an old man" — Tries Surrey in winter 1890-1 — Red chalk
drawings — Paints portraits for "Home Arts" — "Court of Death"
finished by eightieth birthday — Mrs. Thornycroft the sculptress — Dis-
approval of gambling — Admiration of John Ruskin — Special anxiety
about money — Sells "A Reverie" — Objects to members of aristocracy
making money on turf or by battues — "Faith, Hope, and Charity"
painted to convey gentler influences than creeds of Churches — Bene-
ficent healing effect produced by nature's beauty .... 160-191





Leighton's death — Long and intimate friendship between Watts and
Leighton. Letters from Watts after Leighton's death — Reference to
Tennyson, Browning, Rossetti, at the times of their deaths — Admiration
for completeness in Leighton's art — Enthusiasm for Miss Fortescue
Brickdale's work — Difference between the natures of Watts and Leigh-
ton — Keen interest in Leighton's house — Admiration for Leighton's
sisters — Watts' gifts to Leighton House — Approves " Clytemnestra"
being purchased — Enthusiastic admiration for sketches in plaster for
"Cymon and Iphigenia" and "Athlete struggling with Python" — Watts
lends thirty pictures for Exhibition in Leighton House — Visit to Scotland
— Serious illness — "Time's heavy hand" — " Most things are an affliction
to me " — Beautiful second childhood — " I think aspiration will last as
long as there is consciousness" 192-206

Joachim's jubilee — End near — Works on "Vital Energy" — Death . 207-210


1. Design for Cover.

From Wall Painting by Q. F. V^XTTS— Figure representing
Humanity gazing upward from Earth's Orbit to the
Universe beyond (in Leighton House).

2. Portrait of G. F. Watts Frontispiece

Reproduced in Colour from Painting by Cecil Schott, 1887.

3. Portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti . . . To face page 2

From Pencil Copy of Miniature by Cecil Schott.

4. Mrs. Nassau Senior » » 4

From Pencil Study by G. F. Watts /or Large Picture.

5. Mrs. Nassau Senior » » 6

From Full-length Picture in Oils, Life size, by G. F. Watts.

6. Mrs. Hughes, Mother of Mrs. Nassau Senior and

OF Mr. Thomas Hughes, Author of "Tom Brown's

School Days." Photogravure » » 8

7. Mrs. Hugh Smith (Miss Constance Adeane, Niece of

the Hon. W. Stanley) » » 16

From Portrait in Oils by G. F. Watts.

8. Group of Heads » » 20

Reproduced in Colour from Miniature Painting on Ivory by
G. F. Watts.

9. Miss Mary Kirkpatrick Brunton. Photogravure . . „ „ 24

From small Full-length Portrait in Oils by G. F. Watts,
dated 1842.




10. Portrait of General Sir Frederick Adam . . To face page 30

From Drawing in Chalks by G. F. Watts, 1850.

{Sir F. Adam, born in 1784, entered the army at the
age of eleven ; at fourteen entered upon active service
against the French itt Holland. As youngest General in the
British army commanded a Brigade at Waterloo, which took
the most important part in attack on the French Imperial
Guards, whose repulse turned the fate of the battle. )

11. Portrait of G. F. Watts » >» 32

Taken in his Studio, l^^/\, given to Author in 1883.

12. Wall of Studio in Melbury House Garden . . „ „ 32

Showing hnlargements in Colotir by G. F. Watts, of Designs by
Flaxman for Dante's ''Inferno'" and '' Paradiso," 1855,
and Casts from part of Pheidian Frieze from Parthenon.

13. "Brynhildr" » » 36

Coloured Reproduction from Oil Painting by G. F. Watts, begun

14. G. F. Watts' Teachers „ „ 48

From Casts in Melbury House Garden Studio of the fragments
of bas-reliefs {Maidens of Athena), from the Nike Athena
Temple on the Acropolis, Athens.

15. The Hon. William Owen Stanley, Twin Brother of

Lord Stanley of Alderley „ „ 54

From Portrait in Oils, executed in two hours, for the future
monument to Mr. Stanley, 1877, eventually placed in the old
church in Holyhead in 1897.

16. Sketches for Stanley Monument „ „ 54

By G. F. Watts, from a letter.

17. Monument to the Hon. W. Owen Stanley . . • „ >, 54

By Hamo Thorn vcroft, K.A., erected by desire of Ellin, his
wife, in the Old Church at Holyhead.

18. Pheidian Frieze on Wall of Author's Studio, sur-

mounted BY Copies of Flaxman's Designs . . „ „ 64
By G. F. Watts.


19. Study for Figure in "Chaos" To face page 68

From Painting in Fresco by G. F. Watts (ttaw in Leighton

20. Facsimiles of " Scribbles " „ „ 80

Written dy G. F. Watts.

21. "Greece in the Lap of Egypt" „ „ 82

Frovi Wall Painting by G. F. Watts {now in Melbury House).

22. Facsimiles of Notes in Writing „ „ 84

By G. F. Watts.

23. " Humanity in the Lap of Earth " „ „ 98

From Wall Paintifig by G. F. Watts (now in Leighton House).

24. "Assyria and Hindustan" , „ 100

From Wall Painting by G. F. Watts {iit Melbtiry House).

25. Figures symbolical of the Spirits of Progress and

non-Progress „ „ loi

From Wall Paintings by G. F. Watts {in Melbury House).

26. Mr. Russell Barrington „ „ 102

Reproduced in Colour from Portrait in Oils begun by Mrs.
Barrington afid finished by G. F. Watts.

27. "The Roman Empire" „ „ 106

Fro?n Wall Painting by G. F. Watts. Head of Symbolic Figure
from Study in Chalks of Lady Lilford {Emma Brandling)
{in Melbury House).

28. "Time Unveiling Truth" " . . „ „ 112

Wall Painting by G. F. Watts {iti Melbury House).

29. "Peace and War" „ „ 116

Wall Painting by G. F. Watts {in Leighton House).

30. "Peace and War" „ „ 116

Wall Painting by G. F. Watts {in Leighton House).


31. Figure meant to be Symbolical of the Mongol

Empire To face page 118

Wall Painting by G. F. Watts {in Melbury House).

32. Half-length Figure representing Poetry . . . „ ,,122

33. Half-length Figure representing Science. . . „ ,,122

34. Half-length Figure representing the Arts . . „ „ 122

35. Head of an Old Man , „ 163

Executed in five minutes by G. F. Watts, in Pastels on Flock
Paper, October 1886.

36. "Oh! Who will o'er the Downs so Free" . . „ „ 168

Reproduction in Colour of Copy executed in Pastels and Oils
from Painting lent by G. F. Watts to Author, 1886.

37. Portrait of G. F. Watts „ ,,184

His Picture of " The Court of Death " as the background.



38. Facsimiles of Notes written by G. F. Watts . . „ „ 202

39. Head of G. F. Watts „ „ 206

From Chalk Drawing by'L Schott.

40. "Aspiration" „ „ 210

From Head in Chalks by G. F. Watts, given to Author in 1887.





A LONG time ago — so long ago it seems almost to belong
to a previous existence — I was sitting one afternoon in
Rossetti's studio watching him painting on the " Lady
Lilith." My first master, not counting the schoolroom
drawing master, was Ruskin, who was very kind to me.
He had advised me, if I could get the chance of studying
with Mr. Arthur Hughes, to do so. This delightful artist,
belonging to the pre-Raphaelite school, consented to take
me as a pupil. As part of my art education Arthur Hughes
took me from time to time to Rossetti's studio, where I met
the mother of the four distinguished sons and daughters,
also the great Christina herself. On this particular after-
noon the picture just completed, " The Beloved," was placed
on an easel in the middle of the studio for a few friends to
view. As I watched Rossetti painting on the " Lady Lilith "
and listened as he talked to me about art, I thought I had
never before heard any voice of the same curiously beautiful *
deep-toned quality. Strong and grave was the intonation,
and though restrained and gentle, vibrating with temperament.



Though no trace of a foreign accent could be discerned,
probably it was his Italian origin which gave to the
sound the particular ring it had. Rossetti's eyes and this
voice and a lono" brown Noah's-Ark-like coat are what 1
remember as his most striking characteristics. The voice
alone would have given distinction to the atmosphere in
his studio. This seemed to me an enchanted chamber —
the curious quaint beauty of the furniture and ornaments,
the pictures in it which, like the voice of the painter, rang
out a tune unlike all others ; the garden, seen through a
large window opening nearly down to the ground, a garden
that might have been a hundred miles from London — in-
deed it felt to me still farther — away out of the world in a
fairy-land, with queer animals disporting themselves therein,
all seemed to centre harmoniously round the strong person-
ality of the being who reigned there. Steeped with the
glamour of the place, I sat very happily watching his brush
and listening to his vibrating deep voice.

The door opened, and a party, consisting of one man and
a few large ladies, came in to see the newly-hnished picture.
I remember the ladies were large because the man looked
small in their midst, otherwise I have no recollection of their
appearance. The one figure absorbed all my attention.

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Online LibraryRussell BarringtonG.F. Watts; reminiscences → online text (page 1 of 18)