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George Frederic Watts

3 of 10 portraits by Alphonse Legros

George Frederic Watts, by Alphonse Legros, 1895-1900 -NPG 1980 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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George Frederic Watts

by Alphonse Legros
Bronze medallion, 1895-1900
3 3/4 in. (91 mm) diameter
NPG 1980

Inscriptionback to top

Embossed around rim: ‘GEORGE FREDERICK WATTS’.

This portraitback to top

A freely modelled cast medallion, of uneven thickness and diameter, with ragged edges and a pitted surface, this portrait was first documented in 1900, [1] mentioned in an obituary note in 1911, [2] and exhibited in 1915. [3] It shows the sitter as he was universally recognized at this date, with beard, beaky nose, high forehead and skullcap. The sitter’s middle name was often misspelt with a superfluous ‘k’.

Watts and Legros were acquainted from the mid-1860s and a number of mutual portraits are recorded. The first of Legros’ portraits of Watts was executed around 1879–80 (NPG D32232; see ‘All known portraits, By other artists’) [4] and near the same date Watts produced an etched portrait of Legros (NPG D18059 and NPG D18060). [5] The present work appears to date from around 1895–1900. In 1894 Legros sent Watts some paper and gold paint, and in return Watts promised a portrait ‘in your style’, [6] which was presumably that shown in 1898. [7] Legros reciprocated with pencil portraits of Watts (see ‘All known portraits, By other artists, 1894’) and his wife. [8] Although angled slightly differently, the aspect of the head in NPG 1980 is similar to that in the 1894 drawing, which suggests the latter formed the basis for the medal. There is as yet no exact record of the date of execution.

Another cast of the Watts medallion is at the Watts Gallery, Compton and a slightly smaller example (84mm diam.) is in the British Museum, London, 1984,0543.1.[9]

When acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, the work was believed to be by Charles Holroyd, a pupil of Legros who later became director of the National Gallery. [10] It was re-assigned to Legros by Philip Attwood, of the British Museum, Department of Coins and Medals, who wrote that the attribution to Holroyd was ‘based on the fact that the NPG example was donated by Lady Holroyd in 1927 [sic] and on a similarity with a painted portrait of Watts by Holroyd, dated 1897, now in the Tate. However, although Holroyd exhibited medals at the Society of Medallists’ exhibitions of 1898 and 1901, there is no record of his having portrayed Watts in that form. A medal of the painter by Legros, on the other hand, is documented in 1900, and from a stylistic point of view the present medal fits perfectly into Legros’ oeuvre.’ [11] Its format can be compared to other works by Legros, such as the sequence of twenty-four portrait medals now in the Tate; some, like those of Cardinal Manning and John Stuart Mill, are more refined in execution; others, such as the head of an unnamed bearded male also wearing a skullcap (Tate, A00712), are in the manner of a sketch.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Le Voltaire, 16 Oct. 1900; cited in Attwood 1984, p.12.
2) The Times, 11 Dec. 1911, p.11.
3) In San Francisco (140); see Atwood 1984, p.12.
4) Originally owned by Frederic Leighton, it was exhibited at the Grosvenor G., London, May 1922, no.69; see Gould 2004, p.420 n.118.
5) One print owned by M.H. Spielmann was exh. The Works of George Frederic Watts, RA, OM, RA Winter 1905 (114), where dated to 1879. See also NPG D18059.
6) Letter from G.F. Watts to A. Legros, 17 Nov. 1894, Fondation Custodia, Institut Néerlandais, Paris, no.1994-A.657; cited Gould 2004, pp. 292 and 419 n.118.
7) RSPP 1898 (156).
8) Gould 2004, p.292; and Bonhams, 9 Nov. 2004 (109).
9) For full details of the latter, see Attwood 1984, p.12, cat. no.8.
10) NPG RP 1980.
11) Philip Atwood, review in The British Numismatic Journal, vol.65, 1995, p.261. The medal was given to the NPG in 1923. For Holroyd’s portrait of Watts, see ‘All known portraits, By other artists, 1897’. An additional reason for the original attribution is the fact that NPG 1980 was presented by Lady Holroyd at the same time as a medallion of George Meredith by her husband, which is close in manner to Legros’ work.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head, profile to left, wearing skullcap.

Provenanceback to top

Sir Charles Holroyd; his widow Fanny, by whom presented 1923.

Exhibitionsback to top

Exhibition of other versions of the image
San Francisco, 1915 (140) (another cast, that now in BM, London).

Reproductionsback to top

Attwood 1984, no.8.

View all known portraits for Alphonse Legros

View all known portraits for George Frederic Watts


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