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ANSWERED on Tue 12 Apr 2011 - 10:24 pm UTC by Leli Crawford

Question: Art: Death Crowning Innocence

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 9 Apr 2011 23:18 UTCSat 9 Apr 2011 - 11:18 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


Leli Crawford 


 12 Apr 2011 22:24 UTCTue 12 Apr 2011 - 10:24 pm UTC 

Hello Montecristo

I hope the snippets and links below will give you a story for this painting. Please let me know if you need any background info.


The original inspiration for this was the death of Mary Seton Fraser-Tytler's young nephew, 6 weeks before she married Watts.

Watts sent the child's family a chalk sketch of the angel of death crowning the innocent child on her lap.

According to his widow, he called for a pencil and drew a "tiny sketch" for the "desolate mother" while confined to his room, "very unwell".
M S Watts,  George Frederic Watts: The Annals of an Artist's Life,  vol 2, p60

Other Watts paintings also show death with a feminine face, Here "the 'Angel' holds a dead child to her bosom and encircles the infant with her great wings in a manner of tender protection."

Watts himself said the angel "takes charge of Innocence, placing it beyond the reach of evil".

The painting struck a chord with:

1) bereaved mothers - many of whom wrote to say they found the image comforting (Representations of G.F. Watts: Art Making in Victorian Culture (British Art and Visual Culture Since 1750, New Readings) by Colin Trodd and Stephanie Brown who cite Bateman, 1901, page 40)

2) friends whose praise made Watts decide not to sell the painting after it was first exhibited in 1888, but to give it to the nation (see M.S. Watts, Annals, as above, p123)

3) various late Victorian/early 20th century commentators:

You can request a copy of a news item about the little boy who died:
(Newspaper: Scottish Highlander
Date: Thursday, October 14, 1886
Abstract: Tytler, Fraser, young son & heir of Aldourie, has died after a fall from his pony, some weeks ago)

Mary used the painting as the design for a bronze for the Fraser-Tytler burial ground at Aldourie, near Inverness.

Charles [Fraser-Tytler], born on the 28th of April, 1883, and died on the 7th of October, 1886.

Watts lost his 3 younger brothers in childhood, 2 of them when he was 6 years old.
http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/36/101036781/ (subscription, or via UK public library)

Watts often painted several versions of a picture. There are at least two of this one, plus a sketch




 12 Apr 2011 22:41 UTCTue 12 Apr 2011 - 10:41 pm UTC 

As the last lines above document, the death of young children was all too common, something everyone had experience with, either from the death of an own child or sibling, or that of a near relative, hence the interest and popularity of the painting (West's several paintings), which we today find just dismal (maybe a better word?).




 12 Apr 2011 23:16 UTCTue 12 Apr 2011 - 11:16 pm UTC 

Thank you!


Leli Crawford 


 13 Apr 2011 08:51 UTCWed 13 Apr 2011 - 8:51 am UTC 

Dismal in a way, yes, and this painting in particular is full of Victorian sentimentality. Morbid? Free of modern taboos about death? I can't decide.


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