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Faces of Fame Past and Present Is a New and Engaging Exhibition at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village

Published on: 3 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 5 Oct, 2022

By David Rose

The latest exhibition now viewing at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village in Compton brings together modern and past portraiture.

Titled Faces Of Fame: GFWatts X Simon Frederick, it features 12 contemporary portraits from Frederick’s series Black is the New Black (2016) alongside seven portraits from Watts’ Hall of Fame series (1847-1901).

Photographer Simon Frederick gives his speech at the launch of the exhibition Faces Of Fame: GFWatts X Simon Frederick at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village.

At the exhibition’s launch party at the gallery on Monday, September 26, Simon Frederick gave a lively speech about how he came to take 40 photographic portraits for the Black is the New Black series of African-Caribbean sitters for the National Portrait Gallery.

He is an extremely talented self-taught artist, born in London to Grenadian parents. Much in demand, he is also a film-maker and broadcaster. He says: “The National Portrait Gallery is the nation’s photo album.”

A glimpse of the exhibition Faces Of Fame: GFWatts X Simon Frederick at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village.

Frederick’s 40 portraits are the result of his desire to record Black people who have had an impact on British society, acknowledging the contribution they have made to British life.

Simon Frederick’s portrait of Naomi Campbell © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Included within the 12 portraits on display at the exhibition are rap singer Dizzee Rascal, actor and ambassador for mental health awareness David Harewood, super model Naomi Campbell, space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock, and trade union leader Sir Bill Morris.

The images are well worth studying close up, as the detail, particularly the glint in their eyes, is something to behold.

Simon Frederick’s portrait of Sir Bill Morris © National Portrait Gallery, London.

The loan of the 12 portraits is part of the National Portrait Gallery’s (closed until 2023 while essential building work takes place) National Skills Sharing Partnership Programme.

The seven painted portraits by Watts are interspersed between Frederick’s to allow comparisons through time, not only for artist technique, but of course subject matter.

At the launch party for the exhibition Faces Of Fame: GFWatts X Simon Frederick at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village.

As noted in a guide to the exhibition, from the late 1840s Watts began to select leading British politicians, writers, artists and thinkers to feature in a portrait series that became known as the ‘Hall of Fame’. Watts intended his paintings to memorialise ‘the men who made England – the prominent who may hereafter be found to have made or marred their country’.

GF Watt’s portrait of Charles Booth © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Featured within the, shall we say, ‘magnificent seven’, is social reformer and businessman Charles Booth, who, in 1886, organised and paid for a scientific survey of the poverty in London. Watts’ finished this portrait in 1901.

And, poet, novelist, playwright and literary critic Algernon Charles Swinburne. Noted in the guide is that while researching Swinburne’s legacy today, it “reveals uncomfortable truths”. He was a founder of the Anthropological Society of London, which, among other things, regarded various human races constitute different species.

Then we come to Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, 2nd Baronet, a Liberal politician and a member of the Cabinet who, in 1885-86, was implicated in an scandalous divorce case. It effectively ended his political ambitions to become prime minister. For the full story of the scandal, click here.

GF Watts’ portrait of Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, 2nd Baronet © National Portrait Gallery, London.

He was a radical left-winger and a republican who sympathised with the trade union movement and was involved with the beginnings of the British Labour Party.

He had a local connection too as he owned a small house at Pyrford, called The Rough, that he used a winter retreat. In fact, there is a now partially hidden boundary stone carved with his initials ‘C W D’ and the date ‘1885’ close to Pyrford Common Road.

Faces Of Fame: GFWatts X Simon Frederick continues at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village until March 26.

Click here for the gallery’s website.

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