HL Deb 17 May 1886 vol 305 cc1151-3

, in rising to ask the Lord President of the Council, Whether any arrangements had been or were about to be made for the satisfactory exhibition and safe custody of the valuable works of Mr. Watts, R.A., which, he had so generously given to the nation? said, that in putting his Question on the Paper he had had two objects in view. In the first place, to find out whether accommodation of a satisfactory character could be given for these pictures; and, in the second place, be had been anxious to call attention to this noble gift on the part of Mr. Watts, R.A., and to obtain from Her Majesty's Government some public recognition of it. As regarded the custody of these pictures, he hoped that his noble Friend the Lord President of the Council (Earl Spencer) had found some means of accommodating them at South Kensington; but with, regard to their safe custody, though he had no doubt that his noble Friend would tell them that there were hydrants and fire engines, &c, he feared that he would not be able to say that they were in a fire-proof building any more than our National Collection in Trafalgar Square. His main object, however, was to call attention to this very noble gift on the part of Mr. Watts. He thought that whoever was conversant with Mr. Watts's works could not fail to have understood and appreciated the high ideal he had always set before himself, his lofty sentiments, his poetic conceptions, and the noble purposes to which he had devoted his art. Of his art it might truly be said that it was imbued with the truest, purest spirit of the Greeks, and that his poetical conceptions are embodied in the noblest forms, remarkable no less for their beauty of outline and anatomical correctness than for the purity and chastity of his treatment of the nude. And if he (the Earl of Wemyss) were to point to one of Mr. Watts's great works which more than another successfully embodied on the canvas his mind and genius, and was typical of his art, he would point to that grand allegory of "Love and Death," where the helplessness of love was shown, when, struggling at the portal with outstretched arm and battered wings, it vainly strove to stay the onward march of the dread messenger and his entrance into the loved one's home. The character of Mr. Watts's art, and his power of successfully embodying his poetical conceptions and high ideal, were due, first, to the innate genius of the man; but he (the Earl of Wemyss) thought he would himself tell them that his success was not less owing to his having been a constant and devoted worshipper at the shrine of Phidias, before the noblest representations of human form of which the world was cognizant, and which were to be found in the Elgin room of the British Museum. That gift was one of great generosity, especially having regard to the fact that Mr. Watts was far from being a wealthy man; and he hoped that the Government, speaking on behalf of the nation, would express their sense of his signal liberality and public spirit.


said, he had great pleasure in answering the Question of the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss), because he shared with his noble Friend the warm admiration which he had expressed for the works of this distinguished artist. It was, however, necessary that he should explain what had occurred in the matter. Some time ago he received a letter from Mr. Watts, stating that he was considering whether he should offer to the nation some of his works, and he asked him (Earl Spencer) whether he could hold out any encouragement to the idea? As President of the Council, he replied that he felt sure the nation would regard with gratitude so munificent an offer as this coming from an artist whose fame was so great, and he added that the Privy Council, and he himself (Earl Spencer), would do all in their power to promote the object he had in view. Subsequently he had an interview with Mr. Watts, and an experienced official of the Museum consulted Mr. Watts as to how his wishes could best be carried out. There was another characteristic, in addition to that mentioned by the noble Lord, belonging to Mr. Watts which he wished to mention. Besides his high artistic characteristics, he was a man of great modesty and diffidence, and he said he should like these pictures to be placed in some position where the public might see them and then form an opinion whether they were worthy of acceptance by the nation. There were two classes of his pictures—those of an ideal character, which were of great eminence and beauty, and could only be produced by the highest genius in Art; and those which were portraits, possessing not only great artistic merit, but great historic value to the country, as representing distinguished men of the present age. It would be of the utmost importance to the nation to possess these. Though he could not speak officially on behalf of the Trustees of the National Gallery, he could say that, however anxious they might have been to find a place for these pictures, they were absolutely precluded by the fact that they had no room. But at the South Kensington Museum he believed they could offer an excellent position for showing these pictures; and if Mr. Watts was satisfied with it, then it was to be hoped that he would carry out his munificent intention. A debt of deep gratitude would be due to him for his valuable gift and for the spirit in which it was made. The offer had not been absolutely made; but the noble Earl might rest assured that the authorities of South Kensington would do all in their power to further Mr. Watts's views and to secure these valuable treasures for the nation.