This is a version of a well-known composition by Watts. Dating originally from the early 1860s or even the late 1850s, the concept shows him in a quasi-Pre-Raphaelite mode which reflects his association with Rossetti and Burne-Jones at Little Holland House, where he was Mrs Prinsep's genius-in-residence and they frequented her salon. There is also a general relationship with the poem 'Sir Galahad' by Tennyson, who was one of Mrs Prinsep's principal 'lions' and tremendously admired by Watts, who painted his portrait many times. The sitter for the head of Sir Galahad was Arthur Prinsep, Sara and Thoby Prinsep's youngest son, and Mary Watts, the artist's widow, observed that the way he uses the horse symbolically, to reinforce the sense of worship, reflects his love of horses and riding. More recently, Allen Staley has seen a correspondence with Landseer's tendency to give animals human emotions, pointing out that Landseer was an important influence on Watts's early work (see Victorian High Renaissance, exh. Manchester, Minneapolis and Brooklyn, 1978-9, cat. p. 68, under no. 12).
The first version of Sir Galahad was a small painting, almost identical to the present one in size (21 x 10 in.), which Watts exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1862 (private collection; see Victorian High Renaissance, loc. cit.). The same year he painted a larger version (76 x 42 in.), now in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, and in 1897 he completed a second large version, which he presented to Eton College Chapel, where it remains. Yet another version, in his most abstract late style (37 x 19 in.), was painted in 1903 and sold at Christie's on 9 June 1967, lot 28.
We are grateful to Richard Jefferies, Curator of the Watts Gallery, for his help in preparing this entry.