'Nationalizing Watts: the Hall of Fame and the National Portrait Gallery', Representations of GF Watts: Art Making in Victorian Culture, Colin Trodd and Stephanie Brown eds, Ashgate Press, 2004: 121-134
The work of GF Watts exemplifies much of what is most loved, and most loathed, about nineteenth-century English art. Concerned far more with its themes than its execution - at least it appears that way to us - its arch-seriousness is both strange and repellent. It is this very repulsiveness of Victorian art that most fascinates me, because it reveals so much about our own preoccupations with beauty, morality and formality in art. From whence did Watts's notions of the purposes of art derive? How was he trying to fulfil them? Is it possible to renew our sense of the value of these works, against the grain of our own aesthetic sense?
The essay is part of a book planned in relation to the centenary of Watts's death, that collects essays by art historians working in universities and museums, and was published as part of the British Art and Visual Culture Since 1750: New Readingsseries by Ashgate Press. The book has been favourably reviewed in several publications, including the prominent journal Victorian Studies. I was invited to present a paper which developed this material in relation to notions of masculinity and national identity at the GF Watts centenary conference, co-hosted by the Tate Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, in November 2004.