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ANSWERED on Wed 13 Apr 2011 - 10:04 pm UTC by Leli Crawford

Question: Art: Angel of Death

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 9 Apr 2011 23:11 UTCSat 9 Apr 2011 - 11:11 pm UTC 


I am trying to narrate a compelling story about this painting, that moves away from the dry descriptions you read in most art books.

I need some background story that brings this painting to life. Not boring stuff like what movement it belongs to, or materials used, or that it was painted in 1833. More like the painter painted it while on the run, or it was used at the wedding of Napoleon, or Oscar Wilde wrote a play about it.
Categories of facts will probably be:
- why the subject of the painting was worth painting
- what it meant to the artist, whoever commissioned it or the nation at the time
- how the painting or its representations have been used, etc.

Avoid trivia like that the Ophelia model caught a flu, but instead material that makes the painting greater.

This question is both clear and vague, so I appreciate there may be some back and forth about great stories, although perhaps the best ones will be obvious when you come across them.

Please exclude Wikipedia as a source. At some point, I am going to do my own investigations and Wikipedia will be the one source I am guaranteed to check. What I need from uclue is information that I am less likely to find myself.

Links are sufficient, you don't need to summarise as I can read the page to which you link.

Example: The Fighting Temeraire

The facts below are good
- Voted Greatest Painting in Britain by BBC listeners
- The only ship singled out in Admiral Collingwood’s victory dispatch
- The National Maritime Museum has artifacts from the ship
- Turner nicknamed her The Fighting Temeraire. Her prior nickname was The Saucy (i.e. Bold) Temeraire.
- The painting represents the transition from the era of sailing ships to steam power and the coming of the industrial age.
- Turner was interested in steam power and frequently included vessels powered by steam.
- Turner never sold the painting, he bequeathed it to the nation.
- Named after a French ship
- While serving in the West Indies there was a mutiny in 1801. 14 leaders of the mutiny were hanged.
- Converted to a prison ship
- Served as a receiving ship (ship used in the harbor to house new recruits)
- The Téméraire has also inspired at least one poem, a book and a historical fantasy series.

The facts below are not so good
- Launched at Chatham in 1798 [doesn't bring the painting to life - she was obviously launched somewhere, and what's so special about Chatham]
- She was the largest ship to have been brought that far up the Thames at the time depicted in the painting [could have been interesting, but I see this more as a random fact - some ship had to be the biggest, so it is a coincidence that it was this one....it would be different if say she were brought up to take part in the Great Exhibition]
- Dates in general




 11 Apr 2011 12:33 UTCMon 11 Apr 2011 - 12:33 pm UTC 

To assist other Researchers, "The Angel of Death" was also known as "The Court of Death" one interesting snippet I saw was: "GF Watts commissioned a small suit of armour to assist him with the figure of the Knight in 'The Court of Death'."


Leli Crawford 


 13 Apr 2011 22:04 UTCWed 13 Apr 2011 - 10:04 pm UTC 

This painting is one of six versions of an image which Watts worked on over more than 30 years. At first Watts gave it the name "Angel of Death". Later it was known as the "Court of Death".

c1877 "He was now painting the small version of the "Court of Death " for Mr. Rickards, and it seems at this date to have been always called the "Angel of Death." Mr. Rickards had seen the large picture which was then in progress and desired to have a small replica, and this was being worked upon during many years."
http://www.archive.org/details/georgefredericwa01watt   p307

"Designs under way by the late 1860s included early versions of The Court of Death..."  ODNB (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

"[He] put the last touches to it, and added his signature, on his 86th birthday, only last year."
The Times, Saturday, Jul 02, 1904 - Death Of Mr. Watts, R.A.

This was the 4m high canvas given to the Tate Gallery.

More about different versions, customers etc.

Original Inspiration

" 'The Court of Death' was originally designed for a Mortuary Chapel. [Watts] had been told of a project to open a cemetery for London paupers, in which a chapel was to be built where the coffins would be collected, to ensure that one burial service would be sufficient for several paupers. This cold calculation to save trouble had touched [Watts] to the quick, and he immediately set to work to think out such a design as he believed might dignify the building."
http://www.archive.org/details/georgefredericwa01watt   p228


"...into the court come all these different aspects of humanity [...] welcoming death as a respite..."

" ... the 'Angel of Death,'....should appeal purely to human sympathies, without reference to creed or dogma of any kind. (Watts)"
"The suggestion that even the germ of life is in the lap of Death, I regard as the most poetic idea in the picture, the key-note of the whole. (Watts)"
http://www.archive.org/details/georgefredericwa01watt   p307

"..angel of death, who is motherly love personified, recurs [in the] Court of Death...
...regal figure...gentle rather than terrifying expression.."
Karl Siegfried Guthke, The Gender of Death: a cultural history in art and literature



"The obituary in The Times [1904] opened with the declaration, ‘the most honoured and beloved of English artists is dead’." ODNB

"The relevance of his message ... reached a peak during the 1914-1918 war, when the Watts Gallery at the Tate was viewed as a secular chapel for personal meditation" [where 'Court of Death' was the biggest work, and dominated one end of the room according to Trodd and Brown]

1914-18 Watts' "meditations on the human condition and his message of condolence took on a new urgency..."
Representations of G.F. Watts: Art Making in Victorian Culture
By Colin Trodd, Stephanie Brown

Falling out of favour

1930s: out of fashion, criticised as "mere painter of sermons". After Mary Watts died in 1938, the Tate Gallery director had "Court of Death" rolled up for storage.
Trodd and Brown, as above

2004 "Symbolist and allegorical canvases, donated to the gallery by the artist himself, but for as far back as I can remember relegated to storage.....
.... With titles such as ... The Court of Death, these dark, brooding pictures can today feel rhetorical and empty..."


Thanks to Paul for the info about Watts commisssioning armour from CR Ashbee's handicraft guild (est. 1888)

ODNB - "Watts, George Frederic (1817 - 1904), painter and sculptor", by Barbara Coffey Bryant

The archive.org links go to M.S. Watts' Annals of an Artist's Life, Vol 1

M.S. Watts not 100% accurate
"After 1904 she nurtured the Watts legend, sometimes distorting evidence, which she published in the long-gestating Annals of an Artist's Life in 1912. Her lack of information about his career before 1886 has also caused problems of dating and of chronology..." ODNB

Thanks Montecristo

I'm getting more and more interested in GF Watts and his work.





 14 Apr 2011 08:32 UTCThu 14 Apr 2011 - 8:32 am UTC 


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