Re-opening the studio of George Frederic Watts

George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), one of the great figures of 19th-century British art, had studios in both London and in the countryside. His London home was eventually demolished in the 1960s, but this month his studio near Guildford (50 km south-west of London) opens to the public following an extensive restoration programme.

The Watts Studios are part of 'Limnerslease', the house built by Watts and his wife, the designer Mary Watts, in 1891. The building is located within Watts Gallery – Artists' Village, the rural estate founded by the Wattses in 1904.

A wide variety of museums

As the restoration and related research was undertaken by Watts Gallery staff over the last couple of years, we became interested in other examples of artists' studios that had been preserved as museums. Once we started looking, it turned out there were plenty of these across Europe. Visiting some of them was one of the most exciting parts of the preparation for the opening of the Watts Studios.

Some have grown dramatically from studio into fully-fledged museum, like the Bourdelle in Paris, where the atmospheric studio of the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) has been greatly expanded with the addition of a magnificent hall in which to show off some of his massive plaster models. Other studios are more modestly displayed as part of a domestic setting, as at the house of the Russian realist painter Ilya Repin (1844-1930) near St Petersburg.

Repin's 'Penates' is a wonderfully eccentric home, where the master entertained the progressive intellectuals of his day, and where his studio forms one part of a fascinating homely ensemble.

Watts Gallery - Artists' Village as it appears after the opening of the Watts Studios.

Curating the studio museum

At some studio museums you can still get your hands dirty and join in the process of making art, as at the Rembrandt House where visitors can have a go at making prints using the same techniques as the great man himself. The studio of Francis Bacon (1909-1992), on the other hand, has been miraculously translated, stick by stick, stain by stain, from London to the Dublin City Gallery—The Hugh Lane, where it is beautifully shown off as a work of installation art in its own right.

As we at the Watts Gallery got to know the studio museums of Europe, it became clear that while there were a great many different ways to 'curate the studio', there were just as many affinities between us.

Bringing studio museums together

The opportunities and challenges perceived by those running the museums, and those visiting them, often seemed familiar. Studio museums offer a potentially profound experience of a particular artist's aspirations and methods; the visitor can feel more of a guest than a tourist. But keeping the flame alive in the absence of the artist themself is no easy task. Authenticity can risk becoming stagnant facsimile; enlivening the spaces through interactive experiences flirts with kitsch.

The powerful sense of there being a community of studio museums out there, with so much in common between us, inspired us to develop this website to intrigue travellers and to generate creative interchange between the museums.

On this website you can find, alongside an ever-expanding presentation of individual studio museums, a News feature where each month we will be posting short pieces of writing relating to all aspects of artist's studio museums.

Our hope is that from this beginning, an informal Artist's Studio Museum Network will develop through which we can help one another, appeal ever more strongly to a wide public, and enthuse everyone through these charismatic, personal, historic, creative spaces.

The reconstructed studio of Francis Bacon at The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.

Bringing studio museums together

The opportunities and challenges perceived by those running the museums, and those visiting them, often seemed familiar. Studio museums offer a potentially profound experience of a particular artist's aspirations and methods; the visitor can feel more of a guest than a tourist. But keeping the flame alive in the absence of the artist themself is no easy task. Authenticity can risk becoming stagnant facsimile; enlivening the spaces through interactive experiences flirts with kitsch.

The powerful sense of there being a community of studio museums out there, with so much in common between us, inspired us to develop this website to intrigue travellers and to generate creative interchange between the museums.

On this website you can find, alongside an ever-expanding presentation of individual studio museums, a News feature where each month we will be posting short pieces of writing relating to all aspects of artist's studio museums.

Our hope is that from this beginning, an informal Artist's Studio Museum Network will develop through which we can help one another, appeal ever more strongly to a wide public, and enthuse everyone through these charismatic, personal, historic, creative spaces.

Join us...

We are inviting all artist's studio museums to join our network

To find out more, please get in touch

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