GEORGE FREDERICK WATTS, O.M., R.A. (BRITISH, 1817-1904)

OLYMPUS ON IDA

Details
GEORGE FREDERICK WATTS, O.M., R.A. (BRITISH, 1817-1904)
OLYMPUS ON IDA
SIGNED AND DATED 'G. F. WATTS 1885' (LOWER RIGHT)
OIL ON CANVAS
57.7/8 X 40¼IN. (147 X 102.2CM.)
Provenance
PURCHASED FROM THE ARTIST BY WILLIAM R. MOSS, 'THE OAKS', UPTON, CHESTER.
ACQUIRED BY KERRISON PRESTON, BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND, IN 1946.
THOMAS AGNEW & SONS, LONDON.
HARRY M. HAWKINS, AMITY, OREGON, BY 1959.
PRIVATE COLLECTION, FLORIDA, UNTIL 1982.
Literature
TIMES, 2 MAY 1887, P. 12.
ATHENAEUM, NO. 3106, 7 MAY 1887, P. 613.
MRS M. S. WATTS'S MANUSCRIPT CATALOGUE, VOL. 1, P.109.
H. BLACKBURN, GROSVENOR NOTES 1887, 1887, ILLUSTRATED P. 18.
J. CARTWRIGHT, 'THE LIFE AND WORKS OF G. F. WATTS', ART JOURNAL, EASTER ANNUAL, 1896, P. 3.
H. MACMILLAN, THE LIFE-WORK OF GEORGE FREDERICK WATTS, R.A., 1903, PP. 125, 140.
M. S. WATTS, GEORGE FREDERIC WATTS: THE ANNALS OF AN ARTIST'S LIFE, 1912, VOL. 2, PP. 45, 57.
W. K. WEST & R. PANTINI, G. F. WATTS, N.D., ILLUSTRATED P. 55.
K. PRESTON, 'A NOTE ON WATTS' PICTURE "OLYMPUS ON IDA"', APOLLO, JANUARY 1947, PP. 47, 55 AND ILLUSTRATED ON THE FRONT COVER.
K. PRESTON (ED.), LETTERS FROM GRAHAM ROBERTSON, 1953, P. 526.
THE AGE OF ROSSETTI, BURNE-JONES & WATTS: SYMBOLISM IN BRITAIN (1860-1910), EXH. TATE GALLERY, 1997-8, CAT. PP. 71-2, ILLUSTRATED.
Exhibited
LONDON, GROSVENOR GALLERY, 1887, NO. 57 (AS THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS).
SOUTHPORT, SOUTHPORT CENTENARY EXHIBITION, 1892.
LONDON, NEW GALLERY, WORKS OF G. F. WATTS, R.A., 1896-7, NO. 68.
LONDON, ROYAL ACADEMY, WORKS BY THE LATE GEORGE FREDERICK WATTS, R.A., O.M. ..., WINTER 1905, NO. 246.

Lot Essay

THE PAINTING WAS THE LAST THAT WATTS EXHIBITED AT THE GROSVENOR GALLERY BEFORE TRANSFERRING TO ITS SUCCESSOR, THE NEW GALLERY, THE FOLLOWING YEAR (SEE LOT 36). IN THE CATALOGUE HE CALLED IT THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS, INDICATING THAT IT REPRESENTS ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS SUBJECTS IN GREEK MYTHOLOGY. THREE GODDESSES - FROM LEFT TO RIGHT, PALLAS ATHENE (MINERVA), HERA (JUNO) AND ATHRODITE (VENUS) - HAVE ALL CLAIMED THE GOLD APPLE INSCRIBED 'FOR THE FAIREST' WHICH HAS BEEN PROVOCATIVELY THROWN DOWN BY ERIS, GODDESS OF DISCORD, AT THE NUPTIALS OF PELEUS AND THETIS. ZEUS (JUPITER) HAS SENT THEM TO MOUNT IDA AND CHARGED THE SHEPHERD PARIS WITH ADJUDICATING THIS SUPREME BEAUTY CONTEST; AND THEY AWAIT HIS VERDICT, EACH DISPLAYING HER CHARMS. HIS DECISION TO AWARD THE PRIZE TO VENUS WILL LEAD TO THE TROJAN WAR.

WATTS HAD EVIDENTLY DECIDED TO CHANGE THE NAME TO OLYMPUS ON IDA BY 1890,SINCE IN A LETTER TO WILLIAM R. MOSS, THE PICTURE'S FIRST OWNER, DATED 5 JANUARY THAT YEAR AND TRANSCRIBED ON A LABEL ON THE BACK, HE WROTE: 'MY PICTURE OF OLYMPUS ON IDA I REGARD AS QUITE ONE OF THE BEST I HAVE EVER PAINTED. I HAVE TRIED TO EXPRESS WITHOUT ATTRIBUTES THE DIFFERENT CHARACTERISTICS OF THE THREE GODDESSES AND BY THE COLOUR AND QUALITIES OF SURFACE TO SUGGEST A CERTAIN SENSE OF THE CELESTIAL PERFUME ACCOMPANYING THEM.'

WATTS HAD TREATED THE THEME IN AN IMPORTANT PAINTING OF THE EARLY 1870S, AGAIN OMITTING THE FIGURE OF PARIS BUT VARYING THE CONCEPTION OF THE THREE GODDESSES (FARINGDON COLLECTION TRUST, BUSCOT PARK, OXFORDSHIRE; SEE THE AGE OF ROSSETTI, BURNE-JONES & WATTS:SYMBOLISM IN BRITAIN 1860-1910, EXH. TATE GALLERY, LONDON, 1997, NO. 14, ILLUSTRATED IN REVERSE). THERE IS ALSO A SMALL VERSION OF OUR PICTURE (WATTS GALLERY, COMPTON), DATING FROM 1885 AND DELIBERATELY LEFT UNFINISHED TO PRESERVE WHAT HIS WIDOW DESCRIBED AS 'A CERTAIN OPALESQUE QUALITY' IN THE EXECUTION. SURPRISING THOUGH IT MAY SEEM, THE COMPOSITION OF THE TWO PAINTINGS OF 1885-6 MAY HAVE ITS ORIGIN IN THE FOLDS OF WATTS' BED-CURTAINS WHEN HE WAS CONVALESCING IN BRIGHTON IN 1872-3. LIKE LEONARDO FINDING INSPIRATION IN THE DAMP STAINS IN WALLS, WATTS OFTEN BASED HIS PAINTINGS ON CHANCE NATURAL EFFECTS, AND A SKETCH OF THREE STANDING FEMALE FIGURES SUGGESTED BY THE CURTAINS OF HIS BED ON THIS OCCASION IS REMARKABLY SIMILAR TO THE GROUP OF THREE GODDESSES IN OLYMPUS ON IDA (SEE G. F. WATTS: A NINETEENTH CENTURY PHENOMENON, EXH. WHITECHAPEL ART GALLERY, 1974, NO. 64, ILLUSTRATED).

THE STATUESQUE FEMALE NUDES FOUND BOTH IN THE BUSCOT PAINTING AND THE TWO VERSIONS OF OLYMPUS ON IDA BETRAY WATTS' LIFELONG DEVOTION TO THE ELGIN MARBLES IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM. MORE IMMEDIATELY, HOWEVER, THEY WERE INSPIRED BY 'LONG MARY', THE NAME HE GAVE TO AN UNIDENTIFIED GIRL WHO POSED EXCLUSIVELY FOR HIM OVER A PERIOD OF SEVERAL YEARS, BEGINNING IN THE EARLY 1860S. WATTS ADMIRED LENGTH OF LIMB, AND MARY WAS UNUSUALLY TALL; MRS WATTS DESCRIBED HER AS 'THIS MOST SPLENDID MODEL - NOBLE IN FORM AND IN THE SIMPLICITY AND INNOCENCE OF HER NATURE - A MODEL OF WHOM HE OFTEN SAID THAT, IN THE FLEXIBILITY OF MOVEMENT AS WELL AS IN THE MAGNIFICENCE OF LINE, IN HIS EXPERIENCE SHE HAD NO EQUAL'. SOME OF HIS BEST KNOWN WORKS WERE INSPIRED BY HER, INCLUDING THE BUST CLYTIE (MARBLE ORIGINAL IN GUILDHALL ART GALLERY, LONDON), EXHIBITED AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY IN 1868, AND THE EVE TRILOGY - EVE TEMPTED, EVE REPENTANT, AND SHE SHALL BE CALLED WOMAN (TATE GALLERY). MANY STUDIES OF MARY EXIST (BRITISH MUSEUM, ROYAL ACADEMY, ETC.) AND IT WAS THESE THAT WATTS USED WHEN PAINTING OR SCULPTING, RATHER THAN THE MODEL HERSELF. MRS WATTS REPORTS HIM AS SAYING, 'I DON'T WANT INDIVIDUAL FACT IN MY PICTURES, WHERE I REPRESENT AN ABSTRACT IDEA ... ART IS NOT A PRESENTATION OF NATURE, IT IS A REPRESENTATION OF A SENSATION' (M. S. WATTS, GEORGE FREDERIC WATTS, 1912, VOL. 2, P. 44).
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