Critical response: George Frederic Watts
Self-portrait in a red robe 1853
I had the great pleasure of seeing this self-painted portrait of Watts clad in a striking red robe. Resembling Venetian senators, clerics or lawyers, the red garb was a powerful statement of his character and was to be hung to welcome visitors at the entrance of his studio. The true reason for his choice is still unclear, it is possible that he wanted to draw the notion of misconceptions of reality and become himself a simulation to those unaware of his work, as something else.
This powerful and sombre piece depicts a woman sat atop a globe representing the world, plucking a single string on a harp, she is blindfolded and it has been said that upon looking at this, most remark on the title and say it should be named despair, however the objective reality can be shifted, as it also shows in our bleakest moments there is always hope. This beautiful sentiment has inspired many people. I believe that the depiction of such a bleak outlook is created to instil some of that very emotion captured in the title. The allegorical works of Watts create an interesting narrative that builds on his own reality and perspective to evoke an emotional response, whereby as we come to uncover each metaphor the realities represented are simulated emotionally.