'This is the sort of fame for which I have given my life': G. F. Watts, Edward Lear and portraits of fame and nonsense

Páraic Finnerty*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


    George Frederic Watts and Edward Lear each left posterity visual representations of themselves that reveal much about their respective self-fashioning and self-perceived place in Victorian society. Although Watts did not exhibit his self-portraits until the latter part of his career, they record his determination to transcend his lowly background and inhabit the role of great artist. They also chronicle his innovations and experiments in portraiture, which transformed this art form into a biographically revealing medium.1 In the very first of these self-portraits, dated 1834, Watts presents himself as a handsome young man with wavy hair and the attire associated with the Romantic poet or Bohemian, and eyes that suggest sensitivity and resolution. In subsequent self-portraits, for example the 1846 Self-Portrait in Armour or the 1853 Self-Portrait (The Venetian Senator), Watts poses as the confident artist assured of the dignified and serious nature of his vocation and asserting his place within a European artistic tradition. By the mid-1860s, Watts had already vindicated the ambition, self-aggrandisement and sense of purpose in these early images; his self-portraits from then onwards reflect his position not merely as one of Britain’s most esteemed painters and sculptors, but as a world-renowned artist. In contrast, in 1831, at the age of 20, Lear drew his first self-portrait and described what he saw: an unattractive, long-necked, big-nosed, ‘half blind’ young man.2
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationVictorian Celebrity Culture and Tennyson's Circle
    EditorsCharlotte Boyce, Páraic Finnerty, Anne-Marie Millim
    PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
    Number of pages44
    ISBN (Electronic)9781137007940
    ISBN (Print)9781137007933, 9781349435401
    Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2013


    • great artist
    • Victorian society
    • celebrity culture
    • Houghton Library


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