As the social status of British artists increased dramatically during the second half of the nineteenth century, they found themselves with cultural capital to spend. The definitive example is George Frederic Watts (1817–1904) whose 200th anniversary falls this year. Watts’s fame as Britain’s leading Symbolist painter was put to use in support of an extraordinary range of causes from animal rights to dress reform, in locations ranging from Whitechapel to Cape Town.
This seminar will explore how Watts and other British artists projected their aesthetic authority into social and political fields. While the political commitments of designers such as William Morris are well documented and readily relatable to their practice, the links between fine artists and the political sphere remains poorly understood. In what ways were transfers of power between the artistic and the political effected? Which causes were appropriate for artists to engage with and which were beyond their reach? How do artists’ political affiliations shift our understanding of their careers?
The event will take place on 30 October 2017 at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village in Compton, near Guildford (Guildford station is less than 40 minutes from London Waterloo). The day will include lunch (provided), a tour of the Artists’ Village and an introduction to the exhibition G F Watts: England’s Michelangelo by the curators. Speakers include Colin Trodd, University of Manchester; Elena Cooper, University of Glasgow; Chloe Ward, Queen Mary, University of London; Anne Stutchbury; Beatrice Bertram, Watts Gallery Trust; Laura MacCulloch Royal Holloway, University of London. The seminar is programmed by Nicholas Tromans, Brice Curator and Beatrice Bertram, Curatorial Fellow, Watts Gallery.