Compton, Surrey - Watts Memorial Chapel and Cloister

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Notes in italics from Surrey by Ian Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner, Revised by Bridget Cherry (1971),
Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

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The Late Victorian painter G.F. Watts (1817-1904) lived at Compton ... His wife designed this burial chapel in 1896 ... The outside of the chapel is a mixture of Italian Romanesque motifs, ornament derived from Celtic manuscripts, and the heavy symbolism so dear to Late Victorian England: 'the ground plan symbolic of Eternity (a circle) through which runs the Cross of Faith'. So the plan outside is a Greek cross with four curved walls between the arms, with many bands of terracotta ornament delicately and crisply cut, all with an elaborate symbolic intention ... The obvious natural style for this would have been Art Nouveau, and had the artistic climate been homogeneous Mrs Watts would naturally have used it. But in England each small advanced group was working separately, and so the chapel desperately attempts Art Nouveau effects from the outlandish standpoint of the Celtic Revival.

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The inside was designed in 1901, and this is Art Nouveau. It is a very startling and effective room, though not a pleasant one because of the intolerable torpor and weariness of the motifs. There is nothing like Mackintosh here - it is one of the most soporific rooms in England. It is not architecturally great either, because ornament and structure are not really related to one another. The plan has become a circle with four deep embrasures representing the arms of the cross, oddly vaulted by pairs of thick parallel ribs, like the Monk's Kitchen at Durham. This vigorous structure is completely covered by writhing decoration carried out entirely in gesso, i.e. fibre soaked in plaster of Paris. Elongated angels hold cameos in ornate frames looped downwards and linked to form a chain; more angels above, cherubs' heads on the vaulting ribs, any bare space filled with Art Nouveau curves. Heavy colours - dull gold, dark reds and greens - and again a completely symbolic interpretation almost impossible to describe and certainly impossible to infer from the room itself. ... 

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Watts ... is buried in the churchyard in a cloister designed by Mrs Watts in a semi-Moorish Monreale way, one more attempt at finding a  style. 


Compton Church

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