27 January – 17 April 2014
The Ruskin Library is swapping exhibitions with the Watts Gallery at Compton, near Guildford. Established in 1904, the Gallery reached the final of the BBC2 Restoration series in 2006 and has since undergone major refurbishment. It commemorates the great Victorian artist George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817-1904), recognised at home and abroad as a painter who could preach eternal truths and provoke social reform. A lifelong friend of John Ruskin, he was a versatile painter and sculptor who has been called ‘England’s Michelangelo,’ achieving fame in several genres: history painting; symbolic representations of profound themes, such as Hope; portraits of leading writers, artists and politicians (especially in his ‘Hall of Fame’ series); and powerful sculptures, from Clytie to Physical Energy.
Watts was a superb draughtsman, and the new Ruskin Library exhibition consists of 40 drawings covering all aspects and periods of his work, from youthful exercises and Italian landscapes to preparatory studies for some of his most famous paintings, including Love and Death and The All-Pervading. Portrait drawings include one of the actress Ellen Terry, whom Watts married in 1864, and Mrs Leslie Stephen, mother of Virginia Woolf.
In return, the Ruskin Foundation has lent 20 drawings and 20 daguerreotype photographs to the Watts Gallery, for an exhibition John Ruskin – Photographer and Draughtsman, which runs from 4 February to 1 June.