Set in the countryside idyll of Compton in Surrey, Watts Gallery is a hidden gem. Having heard about it and visited the neighbouring chapel, Jaz was really surprised that I had never been. So one Saturday in June, we spent an amazing few hours looking at some wonderful art.
Watts Gallery is a very rare thing, it is the only gallery in the UK devoted to one single artist; George Watts. And what an artist. Not everyone’s cup of tea (and I have to confess I would usually include myself in that category), George Watts is a little known Victorian artist and sculptor. I’m not an avid fan of Victorian art in general, but the legacy Watts and his wife have left to Compton is pretty incredible.
Watts’ paintings are dark and intense, some almost so mesmerising that you can’t tear your eyes away. Take Paolo and Francesca for example, a powerful love scene of an adulteress couple, almost in the throes of death. Anyone who knows their story will know it’s a Romeo and Julietesque love story, and although they have both cheated on their spouses, you seem to take their side as the painting evokes a pure sense of love, even in death. The greatest sacrifice in life is to die for the one you love and this painting emits this feeling by the bucket load. This is Jaz’s favourite and I can really see why; it’s a beautifully sad and engaging piece of art, full of drama and immense detail.
The other image that really caught my eye is Watts’ self portrait. Now this could be because there is a postcard in Jaz’s flat of this particular image, so it was the only one that I recognised, but personally I think it’s more to do with the fact that it is essentially a simple portrait which has an advanced level of skill for such a young artist at the time. The eyes just stare at you; you get taken in by this handsome figure with his curly hair and large brown eyes. Self portraits fascinate me, I am always intrigued as to what the face behind the paintbrush looks like, especially when you consider how young he was here compared to how accomplished he was as an artist. It is a difficult thing to make a face jump out of a page, but Watts really achieved this.
I’m not one of these people that goes to an exhibition demanding information; I just like to look and learn everything from the painting itself. Exhibitions can inspire and evoke so many emotions that it’s a wonderful thing to lose yourself in a room full of art. The lovely thing about Watts Gallery is that you can spend as much time as you like here, without feeling like you are being watched by a gallery employee trying to move you along, like in so many popular galleries.
I have to say, I had a really enjoyable day out in Compton; enjoyed paintings, good company, a very delicious afternoon tea in the café and finally a trip to the wonderful Compton Chapel.
Compton Chapel is situated in the cemetery barely 500 metres from the gallery. It is a homage to Watts’ wife Mary; a potter who led a group of amateurs in designing and constructing the chapel. The building of the chapel created a sense of community around Compton and every single tile is a work of art.
Created during the arts and crafts movement, Compton Chapel is a photographers dream, embellished with intricate Celtic patterns and motifs. I had visited the chapel before, but every time I go, I seem to notice something new and could probably spend an hour in this tiny building just looking up at the ceiling!
To get in, you enter through a big wooden door by twisting the big iron door handle; it’s almost a sense of occasion just to get in. When you do walk in, you are immediately struck by this sense of awe, not by how big it is, but simple by how detailed it is, and how it really is not what you were expecting at all. Everyone immediately goes quiet and there is a sense of spirituality inside, whether you are religious or not. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything like it before, it really is a most unique piece of architecture and design. As I said, Compton really is a hidden gem.