Press Release

British Art Displays 1500-2004: The Symbolic Paintings of GF Watts

British Art Displays 1500-2004: The Symbolic Paintings of GF Watts: Press related to past Tate displays.

Tate Britain
9 August 2004 –

To mark the Centenary of the death of GF Watts, Tate Britain will mount a new display which features many of his best known paintings along with rarely shown works including the monumental Court of Death c1870-1902 which measures over four metres by two metres.

In 1897 Watts donated eighteen symbolic paintings to the newly established
Tate Gallery, later supplementing his gift with three additional works including The Court of Death. The majority of these paintings relate to an ambitious but incomplete series called The House of Life and were regarded as both consolatory spiritual statements and trenchant condemnations of pervasive modern vices such as gambling, gross materialism and sexual exploitation. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Watts gift equalled that of the Turner bequest as a collection of national importance, and the relevance of his message for modern times reached a peak during the First World War. The display consists of paintings and sculptures drawn from the bequest, ranging iconic paintings such as Hope 1886 and other works which have not been exhibited for many years, and aims to show the uncompromising power of the artist’s vision.

The Court of Death was originally intended for a chapel in a paupers’ cemetery but because it took Watts so long to complete the painting was eventually given by the artist to the Tate Gallery in 1902. It will be complemented by Love and Death, a work from Watts’s original bequest to the nation, which has been on loan for over fifty years to the Watts Gallery in Surrey. The display will reunite the three works which comprise the trilogy of subjects related to Eve, made for The House of Life, which show dramatically Eve’s creation, temptation and repentance. Among those works not seen for many years is the extraordinary painting Jonah 1894.

The display is curated by Alison Smith, Senior Curator, Tate Britain.