Here are some of his strangest pictures:
The Belgian Symboilst painter Fernand Khnopff knew Watts’s work well and favourably reviewed this work. Even though the title is taken from a passage in the Bible, Watts work intended it to be a withering attack on his country. ‘The bones in the painting’, he said to a visitor to his studio, ‘refer to the state of the nation’. At the heart of this dark picture is a fallen oak tree that crushes a skeleton, and lying around are various symbols to emphasise the point, including an assassin’s knife, a champagne glass and horses hooves filled with dice. According to the original architect of the Watts Gallery Christopher Hatton Turnor, Watts ‘persistently wore a black band on his arm. After a time I asked him who he was in mourning for? – no-one – “I mourn for the stupidity of my country.”’
Watts’ wife Mary recounted this work:
A visitor looking at After the Deluge remarked that into such as scheme of colour he felt it would not have been possible to introduce the figure of the Creator; “Ah no”, Mr Watts replied. “But that is exactly what I could wish to make those who look at the picture conceive for themselves. The hand of the Creator moving by light and by heat to re-create. I have not tried to paint a portrait of the sun – such a thing is unpaintable – but I wanted to impress you with the idea of its enormous power.”
Watts may have been thinking about astrology when he painted this picture. He was fascinated by star-gazing and after having observed the rings of Saturn through Sir James South’s telescope had commented that ‘it was a sight that dwarfed all others.’ Watts had a great admiration for scientists and wrote that they were ‘dwelling…in a kingdom of infinite wonder – larger than that of the poet or artist.’
He was also pursuing his theme of the unpaintable – God. ‘We can never return’, he said, ‘to the early ideas of Him as a kind white-bearded old man. If I were ever to make a symbol of the Deity, it would be as a great vesture into which everything that exists is woven.’
Watts would also refer to the story of a child who on being asked to draw a picture of God drew ‘a great number of circular scribbles, and putting his paper on a soft surface, struck his pencil through the centre, making a great void.’
In his day Watts was the only artist who had his own permanent rooms at the Gallery of British Art [now Tate Britain] – from 1897 to 1938. Some of these works have been brought together at the Watts in a display Painting For The Nation: G.F. Watts At The Tate.