House of Life – Hope – Watt-ever

george frederick watts - hopeVictorian English Symbolist painter and sculptor, George Frederic Watts, was born in Marylebone, London on 23rd February, 1817 . Originally a sickly child, at the age of 10, he began sculpture lessons with William Behnes, where they studied the Elgin Marbles.  He entered the Royal Academy at 18, studying portraiture.

His first wife was the actress Ellen Terry, who was 30 years his junior. They married on 20 February 1864 just seven days short of her 17th birthday. When she eloped with another man after less than a year of marriage, Watts divorced her.

  • His 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.
  • By 1886 at the age of 69 Watts re-married, to Mary Fraser Tytler, a Scottish designer and potter, who was 36.
  • Many of his paintings are held at the Tate Gallery. He donated 18 of these in 1897, and three more in 1900.
  • He died on 1 July 1904.

The depiction above is entitled “Hope“. It shows a female allegorical figure ofHope” sitting on a globe, blindfolded, clutching a wooden lyre with only one string left intact. She sits in a hunched position, with her head leaning towards the instrument. According to Watts, “Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord”.

The desolate atmosphere is emphasised by his soft brushwork, creating a misty, ethereal scene, in tones of green, brown and grey. G.K. Chesterton disliked it so much much, he preferred to call it “Despair.”  It was exhibited at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) and at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, and is now part of the Tate Gallery.

Nevertheless,  no matter Watt-ever transpires, you must believe in ‘hope‘.

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