Exhibitions

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1884

Watts exhibited nine pictures at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1878. Here a young American woman called Miss Mary Gertrude Mead saw his work for the first time. She was so impressed that when she arrived in London she visited Watts at Little Holland House and resolved that his work should be shown in America.

Letters show that Watts did not initially want to be separated from his works. He worried that they would suffer during the sea voyage. He was also anxious about how his pictures would be received abroad.

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List of pictures sent to America for exhibition, September 1884 (GFW/1/10/24) © National Portrait Gallery, LondonList of pictures sent to America for exhibition, September 1884 (GFW/1/10/24) © National Portrait Gallery, LondonList of pictures sent to America for exhibition, September 1884 (GFW/1/10/24) © National Portrait Gallery, London

List of pictures sent to America for exhibition, September 1884 (GFW/1/10/24)
© National Portrait Gallery, London

In spite of his concerns, the exhibition was ultimately a huge success and a gratified Watts gifted the painting ‘Love and Life’ to the American nation.

Love and Life, by George Frederic Watts, c. 1880-1889 ©Watts Gallery Trust

Love and Life, by George Frederic Watts,
c. 1880-1889
© Watts Gallery Trust

Letter from G. F. Watts, Little Holland House to Mary Gertrude Mead, c/o Frederick Mead, Greenwich, Connecticut or 1 West 56th Street, New York, 15 September 1885 (GFW/1/10/42) © National Portrait Gallery, London Letter from G. F. Watts, Little Holland House to Mary Gertrude Mead, c/o Frederick Mead, Greenwich, Connecticut or 1 West 56th Street, New York, 15 September 1885 (GFW/1/10/42) © National Portrait Gallery, LondonLetter from G. F. Watts, Little Holland House to Mary Gertrude Mead, c/o Frederick Mead, Greenwich, Connecticut or 1 West 56th Street, New York, 15 September 1885 (GFW/1/10/42) © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Letter from G. F. Watts, Little Holland House to Mary Gertrude Mead,
c/o Frederick Mead, Greenwich, Connecticut or 1 West 56th Street,
New York, 15 September 1885 (GFW/1/10/42)
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Royal Manchester Institution, 1880

The nineteenth century was a period of great opportunity for men of energy and aspiration. The middle classes sought self improvement and culture, and some became important patrons for artists. This is exemplified in the relationship that developed between Watts and Charles Hilditch Rickards, a Manchester merchant and son of a cotton spinner.

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Letter from G. F. Watts, Little Holland House to Charles H. Rickards, 6 October 1872 (GFW/1/2/69) © National Portrait Gallery, LondonLetter from G. F. Watts, Little Holland House to Charles H. Rickards, 6 October 1872 (GFW/1/2/69) © National Portrait Gallery, London

Letter from G. F. Watts, Little Holland House to Charles H. Rickards, 6 October 1872 (GFW/1/2/69)
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Watts and Rickards were introduced in 1865 and over the next 20 years they exchanged nearly 250 letters. Their correspondence makes up the largest series of letters in the Watts Archive. These letters record in extraordinary detail the relationship between an artist and his single most ardent collector.

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Letter from Tom Taylor, Local Government Act Office, 8 Richmond Terrace to J. E. Taylor, Manchester, 17 June 1865 (GFW/1/2/3) © National Portrait Gallery, LondonLetter from Tom Taylor, Local Government Act Office, 8 Richmond Terrace to J. E. Taylor, Manchester, 17 June 1865 (GFW/1/2/3) © National Portrait Gallery, London

Letter from Tom Taylor, Local Government Act Office,
8 Richmond Terrace to J. E. Taylor, Manchester,
17 June 1865 (GFW/1/2/3)
© National Portrait Gallery, London

By 1880 Rickards owned 56 of Watts’s works and he was asked to exhibit the collection publicly at the Manchester Institution. The exhibition that followed was important for the city and for Watts’s career, as his works were seen by the local population and by Sir Coutts Lindsay and his wife, Lady Lindsay. They owned the Grosvenor Gallery in London and later held a London exhibition dedicated to Watts in the winter of 1881-1882.