Having given in the preceding pages the briefest possible outline of the life of Watts as a man amongst men, we are now able to come to closer quarters. He was essentially a messenger—a teacher, delivering to the world, in such a manner that his genius and temperament made possible, ideas which had found their place in his mind. He would have been the first to admit that without these ideas he would be less than nothing.

If it were possible to bring together all the external acts of the painter's life, his journeyings to and fro, his making and his losing friends, we should have insufficient data to enable us to understand Watts' message; his great ambitions, his constant failures, his intimate experiences, his reflections and determinations—known to none but himself—surely these, the internal life of Watts, are the real sources of his message? True, he was in the midst of the nineteenth century, breathing its atmosphere, familiar with the ideals of its great men, doubting, questioning, and hoping with the rest. To him, as to many a contemporary stoic, the world was in a certain sense an alien ground, and mortal life was to be stoically endured and made the best of. It is impossible to believe, however, that this inspiring and prophetic painter reproduced and handed on merely that which his time and society gave him. His day and his associates truly gave him much; the past and his heredity made their contributions; but we must believe that the purest gold was fired in the crucible of his inner experience, his joys and his sufferings. In him was accomplished that great discovery which the philosophers have called Pessimism; he not only saw in other men (as depicted in his memorable canvas of 1849), but he experienced in himself the transitory life's illusions. To Watts, the serious man of fifty years, Love and Death, Faith and Hope, Aspiration, Suffering, and Remorse, were not, as to the eighteenth-century rhymester, merely Greek ladies draped in flowing raiment; to him they were realities, intensely focussed in himself. Watts was giving of himself, of his knowledge and observation of what Love is and does, and how Death appears so variously; and who but a man who knew the melancholy of despair could paint that picture "Hope"?

Immediately after the central crisis of his personal life appeared the canvas entitled "Fata Morgana," illustrative of a knight in vain pursuit of a phantom maiden; and before long there was from his brush the pictured story of a lost love, "Orpheus and Eurydice," one of the saddest of all myths, but, one feels, no old myth to him.

By a more careful analysis of the artist's work we hope to learn the teaching Watts set himself to give, and to ascertain the means that he adopted; but one point needs to be made clear at this stage, namely, that although Watts was a great teacher, yet he was not a revolutionary. The ideals he held up were not new or strange, but old, well-tried, one might almost say conventional. They represent the ideals which, in the friction and turmoil of ages, have emerged as definite, clear, final. They are not disputed or dubious notions, but accepted truisms forgotten and neglected, waiting for the day when men shall live by them.

Furthermore, Watts was not in any sense a mystic—neither personally or as an artist. "The Dweller in the Innermost" is not the transcendental self known to a few rare souls, but is merely conscience, known to all. The biblical paintings have no secret meaning assigned to them. The inhabitants of Eden, the hero of the Deluge, the Hebrew patriarchs, Samson and Satan—all these are the familiar figures of the evangelical's Bible. "Eve Repentant" is the woman Eve, the mother of the race; "Jacob and Esau" are the brothers come to reconciliation; "Jonah" is the prophet denouncing the Nineveh of his day and the Babylon of this. The teaching—and there is teaching in every one of them—is plain and ethical. So also, with the Greek myths; they teach plainly—they hold no esoteric interpretations. Watts is no Neo-Platonist weaving mystical doctrines from the ancient hero tales; he is rather a stoic, a moralist, a teacher of earthly things.

But we must be careful to guard against the impression of Watts as a lofty philosopher consciously issuing proclamations by means of his art. Really he was not aware of being a philosopher at all; he was simply an artist, an exquisitely delicate and sensitive medium, who, when once before his canvas, suddenly filled with his idea, was compelled to say his word. If there be any synthesis about his finished work—and no one can deny this—it was not because Watts gave days and nights and years to "thinking things out." His paintings are, as he used to call them, "anthems," brought forth by the intuitive man, the musician. This was the fundamental Watts. Whatever unity there be, is due rather to unity of inspiration than to strength or definiteness of character and accomplishment, and this was sometimes referred to by Watts as a golden thread passing through his life—a thread of good intention—which he felt would guide him through the labyrinth of distractions, mistakes, irritations, ill health, and failures.

One of the striking incidents in the life of Watts was his offer to decorate Euston Railway Station with frescoes entitled "The Progress of Cosmos." "Chaos" we have in the Tate Gallery, full of suggestiveness and interest. We see a deep blue sky above the distant mountains, gloriously calm and everlasting; in the middle distance to the left is a nebulous haze of light, while in the foreground the rocks are bursting open and the flames rush through. Figures of men, possessed by the energy and agony of creation, are seen wrestling with the elements of fire and earth. One of these figures, having done his work, floats away from the glow of the fire across the transparent water, while others of his creative family have quite passed the struggling stage of movement and are reclining permanent and gigantic to the right of the picture. The same idea is repeated in the chain of draped women who are emerging from the watery deep; at first they are swept along in isolation, then they fly in closer company, next they dance and finally walk in orderly procession. But Chaos, for all this, is a unity; of all material forms it is the most ancient form; Cosmos however is the long-drawn tale beginning with the day when "The Spirit of God brooded on the face of the waters." Cosmos might have been Watts' synthetic pictorial philosophy; Herbert Spencer with his pen, and he with his brush, as it were, should labour side by side. But this was not to be; the Directors of the North-Western Railway declined the artist's generous offer, and he had to get his "Cosmos" painted by degrees. On the whole, perhaps, we should be thankful that the railway company liberated Watts from this self-imposed task. We remember that Dante in his exile set out to write "Il Convivio," a Banquet of so many courses that one might tremble at the prospect of sitting down to it; the four treatises we have are interesting, though dry as dust; but if Dante had finished his Banquet, he might never have had time for his "Divine Comedy"; so perhaps, after all, we shall be well content to be without Watts' "Cosmos," remembering what we have gained thereby. Besides, the continuous and spontaneous self-revelation of an artist or a poet is sometimes truer than a rigid predetermined plan.



(At the South Kensington Museum)

This canvas was painted in 1868, and is the earlier of the two portraits of the famous historian painted by Watts. It formed part of the Foster Bequest. It is interesting to compare this with the painting in the National Portrait Gallery.

A few words from the pen of the artist, appearing by way of preface to a book, "A Plain Handicraft," may here be quoted to indicate the strong views Watts took on the "Condition-of-England Question." His interest in art was not centred in painting, or sculpture, or himself, or his fellow artists. He believed in the sacred mission of art as applied to profane things. We see how closely he adheres to the point of view made so famous by Ruskin. Both Watts and Ruskin, one feels, belong rather to the days of Pericles, when everything was best in the state because the citizens gave themselves up to it and to each other. Writing of the necessity and utility of reviving Plain Handicrafts among the mass of the people, the painter of "Mammon" says:

"... When the object is to vitalise and develop faculties—the especial inheritance of the human race, but strangely dormant in our time among the largest section of the community—the claim becomes one that cannot be ignored. Looking at the subject from a point of view commanding a wide horizon, it seems to be nothing less than a social demand, rising into a religious duty, to make every endeavour in the direction of supplying all possible compensating consolation for the routine of daily work, become so mechanical and dreary. When home is without charm, and country without attaching bonds, the existence of a nation is rudely shaken; dull discontent leading to sullen discontent, may readily become active animosity. There will not be men interested in the maintenance of law and order, who feel that law and order bring them no perceptible formal advantage. In the race for wealth, it has been forgotten that wealth alone can offer neither dignity nor permanent safety; no dignity, if the man of the population is degraded by dull toil and disgraceful competition; no safety, if large numbers drag on a discontented existence, while the more active and intelligent leave our shores.

"Whether or not our material wealth is to be increased or diminished, it is certain that a more general well-being and contentment must be striven for. A happy nation will be a wealthy nation, wealthy in the best sense, in the assurance that its children can be depended upon in case of need, wealth above the fortune of war, and safety above the reach of fortune. The rush of interest in the direction of what are understood as worldly advantages, has trampled out the sense of pleasure in the beautiful, and the need of its presence as an element essential to the satisfaction of daily life, which must have been unconsciously felt in ages less absorbed in acquiring wealth for itself alone. In olden times our art congresses would have been as needless as congresses to impress on the general mind the advantages of money-making would be in these." (Plain Handicraft, 1892.)

In G.F. Watts, however, we have an instance of a man who, although he sees and is attracted by abstract principles of ethics, does not perceive the manner of their final application; he is not really scientific. It might be thought that the painter of "Greed and Toil," "The Sempstress," "Mammon," "The Dweller of the Innermost," and "Love Triumphant," would be able to indicate, in that sphere of social activity called "practical politics," how these principles could find their expression and realisation. It is interesting, however, to know, and to have it authoritatively from his own pen, that Watts at least could not discern either the time or the application of these ethical principles to the affairs of the great world; for in 1901 there appeared from his hand a quasi-philosophical defence of the South African War, entitled "Our Race as Pioneers." He said:

"Inevitable social and political measures claim obedience, which may be at variance with the spiritual and ethical conscience; but there comes in the question of necessity, apparent laws that contest with pure right and wrong; ... and as we must live, nothing remains but commerce; and commerce cannot be carried on without competition, and pushing the limits of our interests. The result of competition can only be conflict—war, unless some other outlet can be found. Commerce will not supply this; its very activity, which is its health and life, will produce the ambition, envy, and jarring interests that will be fatal to peace.... The principle, Movement, must have its outlet, its safety valve. This has always been war.... The goddess Trade, the modern Pandora, has in her box all the evils that afflict mankind.... How can Commerce, as understood by the principles of trade, abolish war?"

"The simple principles of right and wrong are easily defined," and perhaps easily painted; "but the complexity of human affairs and legitimate interests, conducing to the activity demanded by the great law,Movement, makes some elasticity necessary, even where there is the most honest desire to be just."

Thus, from his own words, we see how the painter transcends the politician; he is a stimulator, he gives hints, not instructions; he is commanding, imperative, but he does not show how, nor stay to devise ways and means. He even perceives, as he thinks, that though the commands of his pictures, "Faith," "Conscience," and "Love Triumphant," be given, yet they cannot be obeyed fully because of "Evolution" and "Destiny," or as he calls it "Movement."

To his intimate friends Watts, who was so introspective, often complained of "the duality of my nature." In the midst of affairs, financial or worldly, on questions of criticism, personal conduct and the like, the great artist was variable and uncertain. Though humble and self-deprecatory to an extreme degree, he made mistakes from which he could escape only with great difficulty; and he suffered much from depression and melancholy. This man, however, never appears in the pictures; when once in his studio, alone facing his canvas, Watts is final, absolute, an undisturbed and undistracted unity, conscious of that overwhelming "rightness" known to a Hebrew prophet. Whatever Time or Death may have in store for him or any man, there riding swiftly above them is Judgment the Absolute One; whatever theories may be spun from the perplexed mind of the magazine writer about Expansion and Necessity, there sits the terrible "Mammon" pilloried for all time. Indeed, he said his pictures were "for all time"; they were from the mind and hand of the seer, who, rising from his personality, transcended it; and as the personality of dual nature gradually fades away into the forgotten past, the Messenger emerges ever more and more clearly, leaving his graphic testimonies spread out upon a hundred canvases. It might be said as a final estimate that the value and sincerity of Watts' work becomes intensified a hundred-fold when we remember that its grandeur and dignity, its unity and its calm, was the work of a man who seldom, if ever, attained internal peace. Like some who speak wiser than they know, so Watts gave himself as an instrument to inspirations of which he was not able, through adverse circumstances, to make full use. Thus was the Man divided from the Messenger.



(At the Tate Gallery)

Love, strong in his immortal youth, leads Life, a slight female figure, along the steep uphill path; with his broad wings he shelters her, that the winds of heaven may not visit her too roughly. Violets spring where Love has trod, and as they ascend to the mountain top the air becomes more and more golden. The implication is that, without the aid of Divine Love, fragile Human Life could not have power to ascend the steep path upward. First exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1885. Companion picture to "Love and Death," and "Love Triumphant."