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A significant painting by George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817-1904) has been allocated to Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village via HM Government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme, run by the Arts Council.


Commissioned in 1848, the large-scale painting Coriolanus marks an important moment in the artist’s career, and its allocation to Watts Gallery Trust enables the painting to enter a public collection for the first time in its history.


In his own lifetime, G.F. Watts was widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of the Victorian age. He was an outstanding portraitist, sculptor, landscape painter and symbolist and became the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Watts is credited with the revival of the fresco technique in Victorian England, this interest exemplifying his strong sense of mission as a public artist. Commissions included St George Overcomes the Dragon (1848-1853) at the Houses of Parliament and Justice: a Hemicycle of Lawgivers (1853-59) in Lincoln’s Inn.


In 1848, the artist received a commission from Henry Maurice Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780-1863), to paint a pair of murals for the Entrance Hall of the family home, Bowood House in Wiltshire. Over the next couple of years, Watts produced two large frieze-like works for his patron: the fresco of Achilles and Briseis and a large-scale oil painting of Coriolanus – believed to be the artist’s last completed wall mural.


Following the partial demolition of Bowood in 1955, the pendant murals were separated: the fresco was removed and transferred to Watts Gallery in six separate pieces, while the oil painting was later sold into a private collection.


Now, the two works will be reunited at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village, where the collection also includes fragments of a full-size coloured cartoon of Coriolanus and oil studies for both finished works, creating an opportunity to trace the progression and evolution of this composition and gaining a better understanding into the artist’s painting methods.


Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, Minister for Arts said:


“It’s wonderful that G.F. Watts’s Coriolanus has been allocated to the Watts Gallery where it can be reunited with his Achilles and Briseis and admired by the public. The Acceptance in Lieu scheme exists to bring paintings such as these to wider audiences and I’m delighted that this impressive piece will now go on display for all to enjoy.”


Edward Harley, OBE, Chairman, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, said: 


“I’m delighted that the Watts Gallery has been allocated Coriolanus by G.F. Watts – its first allocation under the scheme – where it will be reunited with its companion work, Achilles and Briseis. These two large mural paintings were produced by the artist for Bowood House in Wiltshire but were separated in 1955. I hope that this example will encourage others to use the Acceptance in Lieu scheme to continue to enrich public collections here in the UK.”


Alistair Burtenshaw, Brice Director & Chief Executive, Watts Gallery Trust, said:


“We are thrilled that Coriolanus by G.F. Watts has been allocated to Watts Gallery, our first allocation through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. This important large-scale work will provide wonderful opportunities for audience engagement as we explore its history, Watts’s artistic practice, its relationship to its companion work, Achilles and Briseis, and to our wider collection.”


“On behalf of audiences, staff and trustees, I would like to convey thanks to the executors of the estate of Tessa Wheeler for offering this painting through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, to DCMS for agreeing the allocation to Watts Gallery Trust and to Arts Council who administer the AIL Scheme.  We very much look forward to engaging audiences with this special work.”


Dr Laura MacCulloch, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village, said:


“The Bowood House commission marks a significant moment in the career of G.F. Watts, as he began moving away from working in fresco for wall paintings and turning to working in oil on canvas.  Now, we have the opportunity to share that moment with visitors here at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village and, with reference to the preparatory material, to understand more about the evolution of Watts’s influential practice.  Thank you to everyone who has made this possible.”



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Image: G.F. Watts, Coriolanus, 1860, Watts Gallery Trust