Art Trek, Watts & Holl

ART TREK in North Devon and my own to see GF WATTS, MARY SETON WATTS & FRANK HOLL in Surrey. As mentioned on the Home Page under "News", Art Trek was, for me, if not a 'wash-out' then a 'scorch-out' (if there can be such a thing). My fortnight of inactivity coincided with two big W's: Wimbledon Finals on the first weekend and with what people continually told me was "Beach Weather" for the second and in fact everything in between; I regularly recorded temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius.

Apart from friends, neighbours (the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive) and personal invites, I had precisely five (5) visitors over the ten days I was open, and one of those was a passer-by, so really only four from official Art Trek effort. Perhaps I should increase this by two, for literally two minutes after arriving home from my own mini trek (see below), two more stalwarts turned up knocking on my door, having failed to notice my time was through. 'Stalwarts' because they successfully navigated their way to the house from a closed and locked studio which must have looked decidedly unwelcoming. No matter, Brian & Janet and myself trudged back to the studio, and I think they enjoyed their visit, even though the place looked neglected. [There are those who say it always looks neglected but in fact this is just an inevitable consequence of what I laughingly call my working practice.]

As a footnote, I did actually sell two paintings, but not unfortunately technically to Art Trekkers.

The reason I was not open for the third week was due to personal commitments, which involved driving an exceedingly luxurious car all the way to Norfolk for friends, staying there for a couple of nights, then returning in another large car - luxurious on the inside but with recent exterior battle wounds which included the plastic bumper thing which holds the number plate (cars no longer have bumpers but you know what I mean) being tied on with string.

However, that was very exciting, and the rolling wounded vehicle took us smoothly to my cousin, Jan's, house, called 'Friendly Cottage' in Ripley.

She had an itinerary. This included exploring the Wey Navigation, a fine lunch at The Anchor at Pyrford Lock (, but the starriest of all was a visit to the Watts Gallery and Chapel ( It's possibly a consequence of being very old but in life I find that bigged-up things generally leave me feeling "Well, OK, but what an anticlimax that was." Not so this time. GF Watts OM RA (1817-1904) was a phenomenal painter and IMO an even better sculptor. But for sheer raw artistic talent, it's my contention he was exceeded by his wife, Mary Seton (1849-1939). And if anyone doubts this, just visit the neighbouring Watts Chapel ( and if your jaw doesn't hit the floor I'll give you back your entrance money. It won't be a problem because it's free (unlike the Watts Gallery, £7.50).

The Watts Gallery itself was described by Maeve Kennedy in The Guardian as, “A hidden treasure in Compton in Surrey, stuffed with huge allegorical paintings and sparkling portraits by George Frederic Watts that were the talk of Victorian society.” I wouldn't disagree at all with this but currently there is an exhibition of paintings by Frank Holl (1845-1888, so a depressingly short life) called "Emerging from the shadows". I felt, as a painter, far more interesting than Watts. Just look at the painting of the girl's neck on the left hand side of this painting, 'Gone', which, if you click on this link, can be seen enlarged.

Frank Holl: Gone

Sentimental, if you will, but what sublime painting.

So Jan thank you for uplifting my life so gloriously.

- 14 September 2017 at 12:48pm

I knew absolutely nothing about the Watts Gallery and Chapel before I read this. Many thanks for the links. I have since spent a long time looking at the websites. The Chapel website is tantalising but doesn 't give much idea of the scale and 'feel' of the building. I really like the ceramic work produced by Mary Seton Watts.
I agree about the work of Frank Holl. The man certainly knew what he was doing. A detour to Surrey on the way home from London now seems a good idea..
- 14 September 2017 at 12:48pm

You won't be disappointed. I'm so pleased to have been able to introduce you to it. It was new to me too. There is so much great art that we never hear of, and so much that is done to death.
- 14 September 2017 at 12:49pm

Hoping to visit next week ...
- 14 September 2017 at 12:49pm

And while we are on the subject of chapels, do you know the Sandham Memorial Chapel near Newbury? Painted by Stanley Spencer. I used to steward at the Spencer Gallery in Cookham and at one time knew his work and writing very well. The Sandham Memorial Chapel was suffering from mould damage and had to be closed for a time but I think it's open again now.
Spencer's work and vision isn't to everyone's taste but his work got under my skin. And he was a consummate draftsman
- 14 September 2017 at 12:49pm

Please tell me what you think Samwise. I'll be very interested in your views.

Like Spencer's work - which I love too Isabella - it's just possible Holl won't be to everyone's taste (but you'd have to be quite strange). Whatever you think of the 2D work, the 3D and the Chapel will impress I'm certain.

I've never been to the Sandham Chapel. It looks like a Must next time I'm up that way.

Don't you love the way events conspire? I’m in the planning stages for an exhibition in aid of Help For Heroes to coincide with Remembrance commemorations in November 2014. It involves a series of paintings based on forties 'pin-ups' as inspired by a group of lovely mums from Cheshire and the 'Nose Art' on WWII Bombers, particularly American aircraft. We were discussing this only today with a gallery, and talked about including 'Trench Art', WWI poetry and artefacts in the exhibition.

So reading about Harry Sandham brought all this together for me in a very moving way.
Christine Gunns
- 14 September 2017 at 12:49pm

Back in the 1980's when I used to walk with friends in the Surrey hills we would sometimes head for the Watts Gallery - not for the pictures but the delicious home-made cakes they used to serve! There was no café in those days - we had to sit outside under the arches.

The Gallery was featured on the Gryff Rhys Jones "Restoration" programme about seven years ago when the roof was leaking badly and they needed a lot of money to stop the place falling down. I don't think they won the viewers' vote but they've obviously raised the money from somewhere. I had a look at their website and it seems a very polished operation compared to how it used to be.

I remember going to the Chapel with not a soul around and not being sure if it was open to the public.

I expect you know the Watts sculpture in Kensington Gardens - Physical Energy - always a powerful site. But did you know Watts was responsible for the memorials in Postman's Park - he wanted to celebrate heroism in everyday life. He was too ill to attend the unveiling of the first plaques in 1900 but after he died one of the students at Watts School of Arts and Crafts at Compton made a terracotta plaque with a relief of the artist to be put in the centre of the cloister.
Stella Levy
- 14 September 2017 at 12:49pm

Shame you felt Art Trek a 'wash out'. Do you think that expectation takes too much place in these events? As the organiser, I say to the artists involved to expect nothing, but if anything sells then it's a lovely bonus. Also all these events are just drip feed and help raise artists profiles, giving them a cheap way of promoting themselves - to take a space in the media would be out of reach for most artists. Being part of an open studios event and having space in their brochure has a lasting quality as people often keep these to refer to the artists over the following months. I think this has great value just on its own.
- 14 September 2017 at 12:50pm

You are quite right Stella, as usual! All I meant was that it was a "scorch-out" because of the weather and hardly any visitors. It's hard spending all day with no-one coming and when it's hard to do your normal work with being on tenterhooks all the time. One year I got so cross that I did a very angry painting (which I still have) and which actually worked very well, see - so I agree much unexpected good can emerge from these things.
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