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George Frederic Watts

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George Frederic Watts

by George Frederic Watts
oil on canvas, circa 1879
26 1/8 in. x 20 7/8 in. (663 mm x 531 mm)
Given by the executors of the sitter's estate, 1905
Primary Collection
NPG 1406

Sitterback to top

  • George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), Painter and sculptor. Sitter in 43 portraits, Artist associated with 92 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), Painter and sculptor. Artist associated with 92 portraits, Sitter in 43 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This is a version of a larger self-portrait Watts made for the famous series of artists’ self-portraits held by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence that shows Watts holding a palette and standing before his painting, Time, Death and Judgement (Tate). Watts often worked on several versions of a picture at the same time, finally selecting the one to be finished and exhibited. In order to depict his own profile, the artist used two mirrors, and the composition and costume echo the self-portraits by the Italian Renaissance painter Titian, whom Watts greatly admired.

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 14 Read entry

    By the end of his life George Frederic Watts (1817-1904) was considered to be the greatest British artist of his age. His large, allegorical works on universal themes appealed greatly to the Victorians. As a portraitist Watts had an enormous output, producing over 300 portraits in oils and countless drawings between the 1830s and his death in 1904. Today he is best known for his ‘Hall of Fame’ series of paintings of distinguished men of his time, produced entirely at his own expense. As one of the celebrities of Victorian England, he counted Tennyson, Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelite artists and the pioneer photographer Julia Margaret Cameron among his friends.

  • Funnell, Peter; Warner, Malcolm, Millais: Portraits, 1999 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 19 February to 6 June 1999), p. 29
  • Rideal, Liz, Insights: Self-portraits, 2005, p. 12 Read entry

    Watts made three late self-portraits based on that of the Renaissance artist Titian, painted when Titian was in his late seventies, in profile and wearing a skull cap (Prado, Madrid). Watts solidifies his artistic credentials by aligning himself with the master, but simultaneously reveals his ambition for artistic longevity. Edward Steichen (1879-1973) reiterated this pose in his photograph of Watts taken during Steichen’s European visit of 1902 to 1903.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 646
  • Truss, Lynn, Tennyson and his Circle, 2015, p. 61
  • Truss, Lynne, Character Sketches: Tennyson and His Circle, 1999, p. 31

Events of 1879back to top

Current affairs

Women's education continues to grow, with the founding of women's colleges in Oxford. Somerville College took its name from the late Scottish scientific writer Mary Somerville. Lady Margaret Hall was founded by Elizabeth Wordsworth, great niece of the poet, and named after Margaret Beaufort, a medieval noblewoman and mother of Henry VII.

Art and science

Edison invents the first practical electric light bulb.
The first prehistoric paintings, dating back 14,000 years, are discovered in the Altamira caves in Northern Spain when a young girl notices paintings of bison on the ceilings.
The French actress Sarah Bernhardt, already acclaimed for roles in plays such as Racine's Phèdre and Victor Hugo's Hernani, celebrates a successful season at London's Gaiety Theatre.


Anglo-Zulu war fought between British forces and the Zulus, after disputes between the Boers and Zulu leader Cetshywayo over the Utrecht border attracted British intervention. The British victory marked the end of the independent Zulu nation, although the Zulu's initial victory at Isandhlwana was a major surprise. The Battle of Rorke's Drift was dramatised in the film Zulu, starring Michael Caine, in 1964.

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