In the summer of 2011 I had the privilege of interning at the Watts Gallery, Compton. This is where I fell in love with Watts’ work, and naturally realised that I was fascinated by the Victorian period.
This particular painting, Found Drowned (1850), is one of my favourite pieces by Watts.
Watts was a visionary in his time, and he challenged art to include ethics. He did not object to his images being reproduced as he felt that they should filter into society and make a commentary on the community, rather than be reserved for the privileged few who could attend galleries.
Found Drowned is a key example of this belief as a social commentary on the state of female affairs in the Victorian period. The girl clutches in her hand a heart-shaped locket, which would suggest this was a suicide perhaps due to a lover’s betrayal or an unwanted pregnancy.
Her death is framed by the industrial buildings in the background of the composition as the oppressive industrial and male orientated society has not been her friend. The ‘crucifix’ style position suggests the sacrifice she has made in a man’s world, unable to survive without a male supporter.
Watts was famed for the symbolic nature of his work reflecting social issues and here this poor girl represents a lack of female opportunity and choice in an industrial world. It’s a far cry from the fictional drama of Milais’ Ophelia, instead, Found Drowned is a gritty portrayal of a forgotten female.
It hangs today in the Watts Gallery in Compton. Well worth a visit and the tea shop there is fantastic too!
Ophelia (1851-2)- Sir John Everett Milais