The Diary of Mary Watts 1887 – 1904 || Desna Greenhow

Mary Watts was a leading designer of the Arts & Crafts movement and founder of the Compton Pottery, as well as the wife of the painter George Frederic Watts. While her husband was alive, she was also an assiduous diarist and recorded her thoughts both on art and on daily life with an artist who was at the height of his powers. There is a narrative to the entries that reflects Mary’s desire to make the most of what she felt was the most wonderful luck that had befallen her: basically, she worshipped Frederic.

The comparatively short period covered by the diaries is explained by the couple’s relative ages. Mary was 32 years Frederic’s junior. When they married in 1886, he was 69, she 36 and the 17 years cover the period from then until Frederic’s death in 1901.

Basing herself at Linnerslease, the house the couple built for themselves at Compton in the Surrey Hills, Mary was able to give full rein to her artistic talents. The diaries, begun at her husband’s suggestion, acted as a confidante where she was able to make the most of what she knew was the precious, but limited, time she would have with Frederic. Written in a tiny, almost illegible hand, there is no particular evidence that they were ever anything other than a personal memoir and they have remained unpublished until now. Desna Greenhow has rightly not chosen everything for this book, but concentrated on those passages that most illuminate Mary and Frederic’s story and the artistic, literary and political circles of the time. As a result, it becomes a social as well as a historical document that, while the style can be a little intense at times – “The sweet blessed air as we drove out was delicious … The blessing hand of the ceiling was over our heads in an instant” – her account of the life of an artist and musings on art and creativity hold the attention well.

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