George Frederic Watts

British, 1817 - 1904

Hope

Date: 1885



In classical mythology, Hope is portrayed as a female entity sealed inside Pandora's jar by Prometheus. Hope remained inside the jar when the evils were released. Though Hope is more a concept than a character she is occasionally personified as in this painting by Watts.

Watts' Hope portrays a blindfolded woman with a broken lyre. Watts was expressing the sentiments of such popular aphorisms as 'Never despair' or 'Where there is life there is hope', though his painting seems to be suggesting the opposite. The Victorian public understood his message, however, and the painting became enormously popular, especially after it was reproduced as an engraving.

"My intention, " said the artist, "has not been so much to paint pictures that charm the eye as to suggest great thoughts that will appeal to the imagination and the heart and kindle all that is best and noblest in humanity." Watts was a man not content to make a beautiful picture, beautifully painted, and let the spectator draw his own conclusions. The moral must be presented as such and made more definite. Thus he gives us a forlorn female figure, hugging her broken lyre above a dim and lonely world. One string only is left, and from this Hope yet manages to draw some consolation. It was the artist's power to evoke such highly imaginative concepts and his mastery over the craftsmanship of his art that made him one of the most popular artists of his time. His many admirers found in his work, too, that very charm which Watts himself would have felt to be very secondary in importance. So that, in one way, he was popular almost in his own despite. For his ideal seems to have been the statement of some noble sentiment by means of scrupulous and painstaking workmanship. He scorned any suggestion of "the tricks of the trade." His technique, like his ideas, he evolved for himself.

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