George Frederic Watts: Choosing, 1864



According to Blunt, "Ellen [Terry], wearing the brown silk wedding-dress designed for her by Holman Hunt, trying to decide between the rival merits of a showy, scentless camilla and the humble but fragrant violets held close to her heart".

George Frederic always spelled his first name with a 'k' and I wonder why the rest of us don't. Probably he was named after Handel since both were born on February 23rd, though a few years apart. Watts's father was a piano maker — not a rich man's trade — and they lived in the poorer parts of St Marylebone in London where he was born in 1817.The boy set off on a long life in art when he was sent, aged ten, to work in the Soho studio of the sculptor, William Behnes. By sixteen he'd painted an accomplished portrait of his father. At eighteen he found the Royal Academy Schools had nothing to teach him. At twenty he exhibited there for the first time and around this time he also met Constantine Ionides, a Greek merchant, who became his first patron. At twenty-five he won first prize in a competition for works to adorn the Houses of Parliament, then newly re-built to replace the old Palace of Westminster which had burned down. The prize money paid for a four-year trip to Italy, where he got his third big break — he met and went to live with Lord and Lady Holland in their villa in Careggi in Tuscany. (Lord Holland was Secretary to the British Embassy in Florence; this, of course, was before the Risorgimento.)

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