When you consider visiting a museum or an art gallery, London is likely to be the first place that comes to mind. The hustle and bustle of the big city; the noise, the crowds, the queues, the travelling by train. Often the hassle of getting there outweighs the desire.
Watts Gallery Artists’ Village, near to Guildford, contradicts London in every possible and perfect way. With a picturesque drive through the Surrey Hills, before even setting foot into the nineteenth-century buildings you are put into a contemplative state of mind. The escape from London was very much the appeal for the Watts couple who chose Compton as their retreat from the confines of London.
Watts Gallery was owned by George Frederic Watts and Mary Watts, both prominent artists in the Victorian era. The village is divided by a small road. On one side, nestled in the woodlands, stands the Watts’ home and studio. A peaceful walk amongst the trees leads you up to their handsome, tranquil home, Limnerslease. From Tuesday to Sunday you can tour the house and see the Arts and Crafts design as well as find out more fascinating details about their lives. The Studio is set out in an immersive way. Paints are scattered across the table with stacked books; canvases are set upon easels and the large window illustrates the positive effect the surroundings had on their work with its uninterrupted views.
Across the quiet road, there is a short and pleasant walk to the historic Watts Gallery. The Gallery displays Watts’ paintings such as his “Protest Pictures” which may resonate with today’s audience with their focus on poverty and injustice. It finishes with his impressive sculpture depicting a man on a horse – Physical Energy. The current exhibition is John Frederick Lewis, a Victorian Orientalist artist. The paintings are sensuous and experimental. Lewis is beautifully echoed throughout the village by the contemporary artist Fiona Grady’s installation of light and colours splashed across windows.
As well as the Grade I Watts Chapel, a visit to the Tea Shop an absolute must. With its fairy lights hanging across the ceiling it provides a comfortable respite to discuss all you have seen and where to explore next.
It is clear to see why the Gallery supports Kids in Museums. Activity bags are provided for children to complete and every Sunday in the Make Space there is an area for children to create, design and learn in the most fun way possible. With something new on offer each Sunday, your child will want to keep on returning to this welcoming space. Each Monday during term time the Village runs a Stay and Play Forest school and Half Term is already action-packed with something to do every day.
The Watts Gallery cannot be classified as only a museum or an art gallery. It is a living, breathing, evolving artists’ village. With Artists in Residence, contemporary art displayed alongside Victorian art, this truly is a place to look both to the past and the future. Come here to see new and emerging artists alongside the history, all whilst breathing in the fresh country air of the Surrey Hills. Forget London. Compton is the place to learn, experience and walk freely amongst the art.
Address: Watts Gallery Artists’ Village, Down Lane, Compton, Surrey, GU3 1DQ