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George Frederic Watts

7 of 42 portraits of George Frederic Watts

George Frederic Watts, by Julia Margaret Cameron, circa 1865-1869 -NPG P125 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

George Frederic Watts

by Julia Margaret Cameron
Albumen print, circa 1865-1869
10 in. x 7 7/8 in. (254 mm x 199 mm)
NPG P125


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Inscriptionback to top

On mount signed in ink: ‘Julia Margaret Cameron’;
and Colnaghi blindstamp.

This portraitback to top

Sitter and artist were old friends from at least 1850 when Watts first lodged with Cameron’s sister and brother-in-law at Little Holland House. In the same year, Watts painted Cameron’s portrait (NPG 5046) and when she took up photography in the 1860s, he was naturally a favoured, if somewhat reluctant, sitter. In 1864–5 she made and registered six half-length portraits of him (including NPG P215), [1] followed by two group compositions known as The Whisper of the Muse (see ‘All known portraits, Photographs, 1865’). [2] In addition, Watts was presented with many samples of Cameron’s art, in gratitude for his encouragement and advice on aesthetic effects; on one occasion, for example, he wrote to her, ‘What would not do in a painting will not do in a Photograph, but I am delighted with the amount of gradation you have obtained.’ [3]

In this instance, Cameron adopted what was for her a relatively rare compositional approach by showing Watts with his painting The Red Cross Knight and Una (RA 1869 (125); AG of Western Australia). [4] This invoked figures from the first book of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590) representing St George/England and Truth – allegorical subjects that were close to Cameron’s heart also. [5] On occasion, for example in The Eve of Peace (see ‘Known portraits, Self-portraits, 1863’), Watts represented himself as a medieval knight and here Cameron creates an allusive link between the painter and his subject through their close proximity in her portrait.

The photograph must have been taken in Watts’s studio some time before the canvas was sent to the Royal Academy in April 1869. Watts registered the painting for copyright on 1 April 1869, [6] and it seems plausible that Cameron took this opportunity to create a new portrait of Watts in the manner of a publicity image both for him and for herself by association, in the hope that prints would sell following the painting’s success. If so, the photograph dates from 1869, rather than 1865 as suggested by Cox & Ford. [7] However, the painting was in Watts’s studio for some time before its exhibition, and the earlier date is both possible and accords with Watts’s hairline in photographs of 1865. The present work bears the Colnaghi blind stamp, indicating that it was exhibited or offered for sale by the firm.

Other extant prints are in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, CA (85.XM.129.2); the Royal Photographic Society, Bath (2024); the Tennyson Research Centre, Lincoln (5406); and George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, NY (1967:0088:0004, platinum print by A.L. Coburn); and there is glass negative in the Watts Gallery, Compton, COMWG2010.1.173.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Cox & Ford 2003, nos 826–8.
2) Cox & Ford 2003, nos 1086–7.
3) Letter from G.F. Watts to J.M. Cameron, 1865, NPG Archive; quoted Gould 2004, p.79.
4) Now titled Una and the Red Cross Knight.
5) Watts had previously tackled a related subject for the Palace of Westminster. Two later versions of Una and the Red Cross Knight were also executed.
6) National Archives (COPY 1/15): ‘Painting in oil The Red Cross Knight & Una St George rides on a horse Una on a donkey by his side – landscape Clear sky. Size 4ft 5 inches high by 4ft 11 inches’; see Gould 2004, p.385 n.9. See also a photograph of the painting by F. Hollyer, reg. for copyright 1907 Aug. 27: National Archives (COPY 1/512/377).
7) See Cox & Ford 2003, no.829. Weaver 1984, no.2.32 offers the dating 1863–8.

Physical descriptionback to top

Three-quarter-length, profile to left, with palette and brush in hand in front of oil painting.

Provenanceback to top

Three-quarter-length, profile to left, with palette and brush in hand in front of oil painting.

Exhibitionsback to top

Julia Margaret Cameron in Context, Arts Council exhibition at John Hansard G., Southampton and tour 1984–5 (3.32).

View all known portraits for Julia Margaret Cameron

View all known portraits for George Frederic Watts