Learn more about the Watts collection

George Frederic Watts
by George Frederic Watts
circa 1879
NPG 1406

The Watts Collection is held in 14 albums and includes original letters to and from George Frederic Watts, and handwritten or typed transcriptions of letters. Most of the transcriptions relate to privately owned letters, the whereabouts of which may be unknown.

In July 1905 Mary Watts advertised in The Athenaeum, The Manchester Guardian, The Times and The Spectator for the temporary return of her late husband’s letters, so she could copy them. Transcriptions were made either by Mary Watts or by those who responded to her advertisements.

The Watts Collection albums contains covering letters addressed to Mary Watts in response to her advertisements, which provide contextual information about exchanges between Watts and his correspondents. The albums also contain other manuscript material, including notes of conversations and reminiscences.

Although certain of Watts's correspondents (notably the Pre-Raphaelite artists) are not represented in the albums, the available letters provide a unique insight to the man and his work.

Much correspondence provides historical insights, such as Julia Margaret Cameron's letter to her husband of 25 May 1860 (copied to Watts) in which she describes life on the Isle of Wight, and a series of 14 letters from William Ewart Gladstone, in which he arranges sittings, praises Watts' work and twice offers him a baronetcy (on both occasions declined). A number of letters relate to portraits by Watts that are in the Gallery’s Collection, including Matthew Arnold (NPG 1000) and Thomas Carlyle (NPG 1002).

Details of other archive repositories that hold correspondence, notebooks and sketchbooks relating to George Frederic Watts can be found by searching the records of the National Register of Archives.

Watts handlist

Further information

National Register of Archives