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42NADFAS REVIEW / SUMMER new life to the Watts GalleryAbove:Watts'sportrait ofVirginiaDalrymple andthe green velvetdress seen inthe paintingRight:GFWatts's iconicpainting, Hope,inspiredtheprojectNational treasureThe long-awaited opening of the Watts Gallery in Compton takes place in June this year, allowing GF Watts's visionary works to be viewed in the setting they deserve. Curator Mark Billsexplains why the two-year closure was necessary and how NADFAS volunteers helped make it as painless as possible The Watts Gallery in Compton,Surrey, first opened its doors tothe public on 1 April 1904. Theartist George Frederic Watts OM RA(1817-1904), whose work it had beendesigned to permanently display, hadlived to see it thrive for only threemonths before dying on 1 July 1904. Inthat time, he expressed a certainfrustration that it was not bigger andcould not hold all the works he hadwished. As a result, his widow MarySeton Watts (1849-1938) sent thecollection on a memorial exhibition tourof Britain and Ireland, taking theopportunity created by the collection'sdeparture to significantly extend thebuilding by adding a large new galleryfor paintings and a further extension tohouse Watts's monumental sculptures,Physical Energyand Tennyson. Thegallery reopened with its new spaces togreat acclaim in 1906. Exactly 100 yearslater in 2006, the Watts Gallery closedits doors for only the second time in itsWATTS GALLERYhistory. The collection was sent to othergalleries for exhibition while buildersworked on the restoration and theextension of the display space, whichwould allow much more of the collectionto be seen. On 1 April 2011, the first ofthe collection returned to the building,an historic moment for this uniquenational gallery in the heart of a village. Mary's death in 1938 signalled a verylow point for GF Watts and the WattsGallery. Watts's reputation, like those ofhis fellow eminent Victorians, hadreached an all-time low and the death ofhis widow also saw the death of hisgreatest and most effective champion. Inthis year, the Watts room at the Tate - apermanent gallery which had existed forover 40 years - was disassembled. Hislibrary and some pictures were sold bythe Watts Trust and the gallery wasredecorated to remove what wasperceived to be its Victorianoppressiveness and ugliness. After that,the building began to feel the effects oftime: the roof deteriorated and rain beganto seep in. The electrics stuttered andthe paintings accumulated dirt, while thecoldness of the gallery is rememberedby all who visited in winter. Clearlysomething had to be done to preservethis national treasure. The Hope project was formed usingthe potent symbol of Watts's iconicpainting as its title. Because many peoplehad been inspired by the figure of theblindfolded young women plucking at aremaining string after all the others hadbroken, the project sought to bring newlife to the gallery and awaken the originalvision of its founders. It became a majorHeritage Lottery Fund project when itwas awarded £4.9 million of Lotteryfunds and a project team was formed. In terms of the collection, plans had tobe made for its move into storage and REVIEW / SUMMER 201143HOLBOURNE MUSEUM