George Frederick Watts & Thomas Wren
Inscribed Physical Energy
Signed G.F.Watts and T.H.Wren 1914.
Bronze with brown patination
Height: 18'' (47 cm)
Conceived 1883-1902 and cast circa 1914
Acquired by Archibald Baird-Murray (1872-1945) and his wife Margaret (1875-1965) immediately or just prior to the Second World War
Eileen Baird-Murray (1915-1987)
Private English collection (ca 1987)
The original concept for the present work dates to 1876-1883, when the artist was producing his monumental bronze Hugh Lupus for the Marquis of Westminster, now at Eaton Hall, Cheshire. As the patron left little leeway to the artist, Watts was unable to express his full potential. Physical Energy gave him that opportunity.
The first ever monumental piece was modelled in the grounds of Watts’ New Little Holland House. It was cast in bronze in 1902 and transported to Cape Town, South Africa, where it was installed as the focal point of the Cecil Rhodes Memorial. The sculpture was to represent the energy of Rhodes, who singlehandedly shaped the development of South Africa in the late 19th century, setting up two successful companies, De Beers and Niger Oil, among other business ventures, and taking active part in the political life of the country.
Once the bronze was delivered and installed, Watts continued working on its composition. The second monumental version of the sculpture, which employed a heavily textured surface, was erected in bronze at Kensington Gardens, London, by Lord Holland, where it can be still seen today. The ‘hammered finish’ of the sculpture was certainly created in response to the changing tastes of the time, being influenced by a more stylised, modernist style.
Watts died before the piece was finished. This was brought to completion by his assistant, Thomas Wren, who eventually erected it in 1909. Another posthumous monumental bronze was produced in 1959 and erected on the grounds of the National Archives of Zimbabwe. In 2017, the Watts Gallery Trust agreed to cast a new bronze cast of Physical Energy to mark the bicentenary of the artist’s death. The piece was first installed in the courtyard of the Royal Academy and is now permanently at the Watts’ Museum.
Watts’ assistant, Thomas Wren was responsible for creating a series of smaller bronze maquettes based on the full-size gesso housed at the artist’s house and museum, Limnerslease. This was likely commissioned by either Mary Watts or the Watts Gallery Trustees so that they may be commercialised to support the gallery’s finances. The production started in 1914 and Wren recalled that the production of 50 bronzes was agreed with the art foundry Parlanti, based in London. However, at the outbreak of the war, the foundry was moved over to the production of armaments and the venture came to an abrupt end. It is therefore impossible to know how many of these bronzes were actually produced, but they are certainly rarely seen.