OIL PAINTING: Thetis, 1867
Thetis was the first of a succession of standing female nudes adapted from the format made famous by Ingres with his Venus Anadyomene and La Source, the original of which Watts probably saw at Ingres's studio in Paris in 1856. According to Mary Watts, the artist produced three versions of Thetis between 1866 and 1860, all relating to a series of studies made from a favourite model known as "Long Mary".
This painting is a much larger variant of the original study Watts exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1866. Thetis was seen to mark a radical departure from the luxurious and fleshy nudes associated with Etty and which Watts himself had painted in the 1840s. Despite the titular reference to the Nereid of Homer's Iliad, there is no emphasis on character or narrative situation. Homer had humanised Thetis as the protective mother of Achilles, but Watts depicts her as a slender pubescent girl with small hips and breasts. The treatment of the form is general and typical and, in keeping with the philosophy Watts later espoused that "indecency clings to the idea of the individual", there is no suggestion of a particular model (Watts 1912). The figure is classical in terms of pose and proportion (there are eight heads to the body), and the hair is confined to the head, apart from a raised lock that serves to accentuate the elongation of the composition. The dry, fresco- like paint surface further functions to suppress ) any connotation of sexuality.