OIL PAINTING: Love and Life, 1885
Love and Life was one of many nude subjects exhibited in London during the summer of 1885, which incited "A British Matron" to launch a campaign against the display of such "morally corrupt" images in public. Although Watts's slight and pathetic figure of Life at first perturbed critics, a painful reminder perhaps of the reports of abused women that filled newspaper columns that year, they were won over by the moral message of the picture. Hugh Macmillan later argued that had Watts painted the female as a Venus de' Medici, self-sufficient and strong, he would have detracted from his allegory of helpless Life strengthened by the altruistic force of Love. In the wake of Horsley's diatribe against female models at the Portsmouth Church Congress, Watts wrote to his friend chiding him for pandering to the prejudices of an uneducated section of the population. His warning relates to his own mission of civilising the nation by transforming the language of history painting to meet the spiritual needs of a new audience for art encouraged by the growth of public museums. Love and Life was central to this ambition, Watts himself emphasising that it "best portrayed his message to his generation": "naked, bare life sustained and helped up the steeps of human conditions, the path from the baser existence to the nobler region of thought and character". In the picture, as the figures are shown ascending a mountain path, violets blossom on jagged rocks and the clouds disperse to reveal an ethereal blue sky. The painting was one of eighteen works given by Watts to the National Gallery of British Art in 1897 as part of his universal "religion of love".