” I do not know you, nor have I ever seen the face of him who gave me my ‘Hope,’ but I am thankful for the chance of that day when it came to me in my sore need.” This is a letter written by a man to G. F. Watts, the celebrated Victorian painter of ‘Hope’ or, as he meant it, optimism. He painted it after the death of his adored adopted daughter, Blanche.
The North Downs are so beautiful in Autumn which was when I visted Watts Gallery – the changing season reflected in the colours of the leaves, the scent of the countryside and the breeze through the trees. In the sweet village of Compton in Surrey is the dramatically restored Watts Gallery. It displays Watts’ works -many portraits , landscapes and symbolic works , ‘Hope’ being one of them. This depicts a young woman, with bowed head, sitting on a globe and plucking the single remaining string of a harp. It’s said that a Holocaust survivor found consolation in the image; Egyptian troops were comforted by receiving a copy of the picture after a defeat in 1967; Nelson Mandela apparently put up a copy of the picture in his Robben Island cell and it’s said President Obama was inspired by it. Not far away is a bright red, brick mortuary chapel – a circular building – designed by Watts’ talented wife, Mary (32 years younger than him and born in Ahmedabad, India. (hi Ahmedabadians – did you know that?). It’s fantastic because it’s covered in art nouveau decorations and celtic symbols and 74 local villagers participated in decorating the chapel under her supervision.