George Frederic Watts

‘She shall be called woman’


Not on display

George Frederic Watts 1817–1904
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2578 × 1168 mm
frame: 2905 × 1520 × 90 mm
Presented by the artist 1897


This is the first of three large paintings of Eve by Watts, all of which are in the Tate collection. This picture, originally known as The Newly Created Eve, shows Eve at the moment of her creation, rising up in an explosion of light and colour; the other two depict Eve tempted by the serpent (Tate N01643) and her subsequent repentance (Tate N01644). The notion of ending the sequence with Eve's redemption constituted a break with traditional characterisation.

Watts reworked this picture considerably in the 1890s, transforming it into a Symbolist work. In particular he developed the notion of woman as a potent force of nature. At the base of the painting is a meadow of spring flowers; colourful birds flock around Eve's legs in a swirl of clouds and lilies. Bathed in sunlight the woman soars upwards towards the spiritual realm in the upper atmosphere. She tilts her face towards the sun, soaking up its powerful, life-giving rays.

The full-length nude enjoyed a revival in British art during the late 1860s, and Watts probably contributed to this through works such as Thetis (c.1866-9, Watts Gallery, Compton). From the outset he considered the series of nude Eves as 'more fit for a gallery than a dwelling house' (quoted in Wilton and Upstone 1997, p.266) and in 1873 he stipulated in a letter that they should be kept together as a group: 'these designs - Eve in the glory of her innocence, Eve yielding to temptation, and Eve restored to beauty and nobility by remorse - form part of one design and can hardly be separated, any more than one would think of separating the parts of an epic poem.' (M.S. Watts, George Frederic Watts: Annals of an Artist's Life, vol.1, 1912, p.262.)

Nevertheless, he sent this picture, independent of the group, for exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1892. Perhaps the other two were as yet unfinished, but he may have felt that the first picture was capable of standing by itself, after all. The Academy were unhappy with Watts' execution and refused to hang it on the line, but Frederic Leighton, the President, intervened on his behalf and persuaded them to rehang it in a more favourable position. Nevertheless, he, too, objected to the picture's lack of finish and wrote to Watts of the 'inequality in the execution and lack in places of completeness' (quoted in Wilton and Upstone 1997, p.267).

Further reading:
Andrew Wilton and Robert Upstone (eds), The Age of Rossetti, Burne-Jones & Watts: Symbolism in Britain 1860-1910, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, pp.265-7, no.124, reproduced p.266, in colour.
Christopher Wood, Victorian Painting, London 1999, pp.196-204.

Frances Fowle
November 2000

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Display caption

Watts called these three paintings The Eve Trilogy. They represent Eve’s ascension to life, her temptation and her grief after her downfall. In her temptation she is shown greedily entwined with the apple tree. The dissolving forms of the central work correspond to the idea of Eve rising up in an explosion of light and colour. By contrast, the heaviness of flesh in the final work suggests her burden of sin and guilt.

Gallery label, July 2007

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