This summer, Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village will celebrate sculpture through a series of exhibitions and special events exploring the evolution of the medium from the 19th century to the present day.

The season includes the first exhibition dedicated to the sculptural practice of George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817-1904); the world premiere of Beyond the Waves, a video installation by choreographer Chris Pavia following his residency at Watts Gallery; a group exhibition of work by leading contemporary British sculptors and a programme of talks, tours and artist-led workshops to discover more about the history of sculpture and about sculpture today.

Recognised in his own lifetime as one of the greatest painters of the Victorian age, G F Watts began his artistic career in the studio of sculptor William Behnes (1794-1864) who, at the time, was one of the country’s most prolific and successful portrait sculptors, appointed Sculptor-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1837.

After completing his studies at the Royal Academy Schools in 1835, Watts initially focused on painting, achieving wide acclaim for his portraits, murals and Symbolist works.

However, from the 1860s until his death in 1904, Watts dedicated significant time to sculpture.  For the first time, A Fragmented Legacy: G F Watts and Sculpture (opening 28 June, Exhibition Gallery, Sculpture Gallery) will consider the artist’s sculptural practice, bringing together key objects from the sculpture collection at Watts Gallery – all of which were saved from the artist’s studios in Surrey and London – with seldom seen oil paintings and works on paper to reveal how Watts used sculpture as the base for a number of his most important painting compositions.

The exhibition will show how Watts moved seamlessly between different materials and across different dimensions to become one of the leading painter-sculptors of his time.  From early sketches of the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum (1840s) to groupings of sketches, plaster models and oil paintings in multi-figure compositions such as Love and Life, c.1880-89      and Orpheus and Eurydice, c.1900-03, the exhibition will show how sculpture was fundamental to the artist’s innovative practice: experimental, obsessive and even destructive at times.

Work shown in exhibitions during the artist’s lifetime, including Clytie (c.1865-69) and Daphne (c.1879-82, Tate) will highlight how, throughout his career, classical subjects provided a source of inspiration.

And, bringing together rarely seen preparatory drawings, sculptural studies and archival material with the original plaster models for Watts’s monumental projects Physical Energy (c.1880-1904) and Monument to Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1898-1903), the exhibition will consider the development, reception and legacy of these two major public works and will examine their history today.

Taking inspiration from G F Watts’s sculpture, Beyond the Waves (opening 28 June, video installation, Showcase Gallery) is a new dance work by internationally acclaimed choreographer and dancer, Chris Pavia, featuring dance artists from Stopgap Dance Company.  The work will receive its world premiere at Watts Gallery this summer.

Beyond the Waves is the culmination of Chris’ residency at Watts Gallery, through which he explored the dynamics and movement of Watts’s sculpture, moving on to look at elemental forces in the natural world, including turbulent seas, fast-running currents and horses in motion.

Comprising three solo dances brought together in film, Beyond the Waves was commissioned by Watts Gallery Trust and is a collaboration with DAiSY (Disability Arts in Surrey) and Stopgap Dance Company. It is supported by Arts Council England.

Figure and Form: Sculpture Now (opening 24 June, Watts Contemporary Gallery) presents work by eight leading contemporary artists focusing on the human figure and how relationships are expressed through stance and proximity.  Featuring figurative and abstract work in diverse media, including paper, wood, ceramics and bronze, this will be the first exhibition dedicated to sculpture to be shown at Watts Contemporary, with all works available for sale.

A programme of talks, tours and artist-led workshops will run throughout the season.  Highlights include Sculpture through the Ages, a History of Art course with sessions led by Dr Richard Stemp, Hilary Underwood and Ben Street; Material Matters, a series of conversations and workshops curated in partnership with The Royal Society of Sculptors, and a series of evening Discussions on Sculpture talks.

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

“Our Summer of Sculpture continues our vision of Art for All by All, exploring sculpture in all its forms with opportunities for inspiration, challenge, curiosity – and participation – for everyone. From our most extensive exploration yet of GF Watts’ creative practice as a sculptor to a celebration of the work of sculptors in different media today in our Contemporary Gallery, and from our first dance commission in Beyond the Waves with Stopgap Dance and Chris Pavia, to a programme packed with creativity and ideas. We hope you’ll join us on our exploration of sculpture this summer”.

Dr Stacey Clapperton, Assistant Curator, Watts Gallery Trust and Curator of A Fragmented Legacy, said:

“This exhibition, the first to explore Watts Gallery Trust’s extensive sculpture collection, will reveal G F Watts’s unique creative process and will show that he was a leading painter-sculptor of the Victorian age.  It brings together a brilliant, and largely unknown, body of work that informed not only Watts’s lifelong painting practice but his unique vision of the human form, metamorphosis, and the role of art in the wider world”.

Chris Pavia, Choreographer of Beyond the Waves and dance artist, said:

“I’m overjoyed and overwhelmed that Beyond the Waves will be shown next to the new exhibition of G F Watts’ sculptural work. It’s amazing to show it and to find out what people think of it.”

Gwen Hughes, Watts Contemporary Programme Manager, said:

“We are excited to be staging our first sculpture exhibition at Watts Contemporary, and to be showing what a healthy state sculpture is in today. The works are very varied, but they all capture small moments in people’s lives, and give insights into the wider human condition.”

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Image: Beyond the Waves by Chris Pavia