The drawing is a study for one of six lithographs illustrating batting positions in cricket that Watts executed about 1837-8. In addition to Forward! (fig. 1), they were entitled The Draw, Play!, Home Block, Half Leg Volley and The Cut. Each lithograph bore an inscription stating that it was 'dedicated with permission' to some interested party by N. Felix. Thus Forward! was dedicated to Benjamin Aislbie, The Draw to Viscount Grimston, President of the Marylebone Cricket Club, and so on. Further inscriptions stated that they were 'drawn from life and on stone' by Watts, published by S. Knights of Sweetings Alley, and printed by W. Sharp of 20 Gerrard Street, Soho.
Watts gave finished drawings for five of the lithographs to the MCC in 1895 (see G. F. Watts; A Nineteenth Century Phenomenon, exh. Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1974, cat. no. 53, all illustrated). Forward!, both in these drawings and in the subsequent lithographs, shows the figure in the opposite direction to our drawing, which must be earlier than either. All the figures in the MCC drawings and the lithographs face right, so perhaps Forward! was reversed in order to make it conform with the rest.
It is often said that the lithographs were made as illustrations to Nicholas Felix's book on cricket, entitled in full Felix on the Bat; being a Scientific Inquiry into the Use of the Cricket Bat; together with the History and Use of the Catapulta. Also, the Laws of Cricket, as revised by the Marylebone Club, 1845. The book, which was published that year by Baily Brothers of Cornhill, certainly illustrates the six batting positions as coloured lithographs. However, the draughtsmanship is much weaker, and the images seem to be no more than adaptations of Watts's designs by a feeble and conventional hand. Certainly the printer is different, W. Sharp being replaced by C. Graf.
Felix's real name was Nicholas Wanostrocht, and Watts met him about 1837 when he (Watts) was twenty. Wanostrocht, who was born in England of Belgian descent, ran a school called Alfred House at Blackheath. He had moved it there from Camberwell some seven years earlier, when he was still in his mid-twenties. It was a family concern, founded by his great-uncle in the 1780s and since run by his father, who had died young in 1824. These men had been formidable scholars; between them they were responsible for numerous school textbooks, many editions of the French classics, and a book on the British constitution based on Blackstone's Commentaries. Nicholas attempted to carry on this tradition but his passionate interest was cricket, a sport in which he achieved fame as a brilliant left-handed bat. He appeared for the first time at Lords in 1828, and for over twenty years played regularly for Kent, the Gentlemen, and the All-England XI. Prince Albert attended a match played in his honour in 1846, which Wanostrocht lost.
It is not known exactly how Watts met Wanostrocht, but the fact that the schoolmaster and his brother Vincent were inventors may be significant. In earlier life Watts's father, an indigent piano tuner, had hoped to make his fortune by developing a new kind of musical instrument akin to the Aeolian harp, and several of his associates seem to have nursed similar ambitions. Vincent Wanostrocht is said to have 'displayed great talent as an inventor, but was unfortunate in his experiments', Nicholas was more successful. His bowling-machine, the 'catapulta', designed to be a substitute for a real bowler in net practice, enjoyed only brief popularity; but his indiarubber batting gloves, though modified over the years, have never been superceded.
Watts frequented Alfred House for several years. He was never a formal pupil. He was past schoolboy age, and in any case he had to make his living as a journeyman portrait painter to help support his impoverished family. Nonetheless, Wanostrocht did play an important part in his early development. Watts used to say that the evenings he spent at Alfred House were one of the happiest experiences of his life, and it is not difficult to see why. His home surroundings were repressive and grimly sabbatarian. His mother was long since dead, his father was a broken and disappointed man, and the two daughters by a previous marriage who ran the drab house in Marylebone were ill-tempered and frustrated spinsters. By contrast Alfred House, set in the leafy purlieus of Blackheath, must have seemed a haven of enlightenment, affording a vision of a lifestyle more relaxed and sophisticated than anything he had encountered hitherto. Wanostrocht himself was an attractive, easy-going character, 'facetious, merry, lively and amusing'. It was perhaps why he called himself Nicholas Felix, the name under which he played cricket in deference to the feelings of his pupils' parents, the game having not yet gained full respectability.
Alfred House reflected its owner's personality and was run on progressive lines. As well as being encouraged to play cricket, the boys were given a thorough grounding in music. The music master was Edward Collett May, the organist at Greenwich Hospital and principal assistant to the famous John Hullah, director of the government-sponsored Singing Schools set up in 1841. Under May's tutelage, every child at Alfred House learnt to read music from sight, and the standard of singing was exceptionally high, Watts had presumably acquired some knowledge of music from his father, but May encouraged him to cultivate his voice and to the end of his life it was his habit to sing at his work if it was going to his liking.
Watts's formal education had been minimal before he encountered Alfred House, but here he picked up the rudiments of Greek, Italian and French. Given his ambition to excell at history painting, this was invaluable experience. His Italian was also to stand him in good stead when he went to Italy in 1843 as a result of his success in the first of the Westmister Hall competitions.
The school was to be given a day's holiday in honour of this triumph. Wanostrocht, who was a competant artist himself, fully appreciated Watts's talent, and the lithographs illustrating batting positions were an attempt to harness it to his own abiding interest.
In her biography of Watts (1912), his widow recalled how, many years later, a friend came across a set of the prints on the staircase of a country house. He did not know their authorship but was moved to say: 'Only Watts could have drawn that leg', and in due course was proved right. The figures do indeed display an astonishing sense of graceful form and movement, stemming from Watts's study of the Elgin Marbles under the guidance of the sculptor William Behnes, to whom he had been sent as a sort of unofficial apprentice at the age of ten. All his life Watts sought to express what Benjamin Robert Haydon called the 'combination of nature and idea' as represented by the noble fragments of the Parthenon sculptures. The batting lithographs are very early examples of that ideal being put to the test.
One could hardly say the same about the illustration in Felix on the Bat, nor would the country house guest have been so likely to recognised in them the genius of Watts. Not only are they far less spirited, with more of the feeling of being made 'from life' that is so striking in the original lithographs and the preparatory drawings; they have also been adapted to suit the more restricted context of a cricket manual, albeit one that is a classic of its kind. Details have been added in the interest of authenticity, including landscape backgrounds and balls hitting the bats, niether of which is present in the original designs. The physical appearance of the batsman has also changed. In the book they wear blue peaked caps and dark neckcloths, while their general turnout, formerly so elegant and Bryronic, now looks slightly pedestrian and professional. These sartorial alterations were no doubt dictated by the need to illustrate what Felix says about cricketing dress in a chapter devoted to the subject. He recommends, for instance, that the sportsman wears 'a cap made of chequered wollen' and 'a jersey not too tight in fit'. A cotton neckcloth is preferable to a silk one even if it looks less 'dressy', since 'silk is a non-conductor of heat'. Trousers should be 'made of flannel, well shrunk before it is made up', and so on.
Most significant of all, the good-looking clean shaven youth who modelled for the original drawings and lithographs does not re-appear in the book. Possibly some fellow pupil of Watts or a young master at Alfred House, he contributes no more than his general stance to the illustrations. His head is replaced by that of a man with side-whiskers and a short beard, or rather by three such men since the plates are said to represent Felix himself and two other well-known batsmen of the day, Alfred Mynn and Fuller Pilch. Felix makes another, more jokey appearance in the book's fronticepiece, which shows him flying over Blackheath on the back of the more mammalian form of bat. Though diminutive, the figure is clearly capped and bearded. He also represents himself in a watercolour of 1847 (Marylebone Cricket Club) showing the Eleven of England selected that year to contend in the great cricket matches of the North (see J. Arlott and N. Cardus, The Noblest Game, 1969, pl.39). He stands seventh from the right, once again lightly bearded and conspicuous amoung his top-hatted peers in wearing one of his wollen caps.
The present drawing was a natural acquisition for Sir Paul Getty, reflecting not only his interest in Victorian art but also his devotion to cricket. When he bought his Berkshire estate, Wormsley, he laid out a private cricket ground, the first pitch of its kind to be made since the Second World War. Getty was also an old friend of the cricket commentator Brian Johnston, and presided over a cricketing publishing empire after buying 'Wisden', the cricketer's bible, in 1993. Although his health caused him to winter in the Caribbean, he would invariably return to England for the cricket season.