The Art of the Sublime

ISBN 978-1-84976-387-5

George Frederic Watts Chaos c.1875–82

George Frederic Watts 'Chaos' c.1875-82
George Frederic Watts 1817–1904
Chaos c.1875–82
Oil paint on canvas
support: 1067 x 3048 mm; frame: 1395 x 3375 x 90 mm
Tate N01647
Presented by George Frederic Watts 1897
‘Chaos’ is the formless state prior to the creation of the ‘universe’ in many beliefs including classical mythology and Judaism. The Roman poet Ovid (1st century bc) described chaos as ‘a rude and undeveloped mass ... all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap’. In 1850 Watts planned a series of murals representing ‘the progress of the cosmos’. Here he charts a path of evolution. Primeval confusion is represented by giants struggling to release themselves from fire and vapour. The establishment of measurable time and space is signalled by the chain of female figures to the right.

How to cite

George Frederic Watts, Chaos c.1875-82, in Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013,, accessed 25 April 2018.