A Model for the Watts Memorial Chapel
George Henry Aubertin
Conceived and created circa 1910
The Watts Chapel is a Grade I listed building in Compton cemetery (Surrey), which was created under Mary Fraser-Tyler’s – the wife of George Frederic Watts – direction between 1895 and 1898; the inside decoration of the Chapel was completed in 1904. It is generally considered to be one of the greatest works of the Arts and Crafts movement in the United Kingdom.
The Chapel is a gem of local craftmanship and the epitome of Mary’s creative force. From an architectural point of view, the structure is reminiscent of Italian Romanesque churches, while the complex terracotta decorations bring together Art Nouveau, Celtic and Egyptian influences in a highly unique way.
Mary’s project was imbued with the ethos of the Home Arts and Industries Association, which aimed to revive rural crafts to combat the urbanisation processes created by the industrial developments of the late 19th century. Numerous villagers from Compton took part to the creation of the terracotta decorations outside the Chapel; their involvement led to the foundation of the Compton Potters’ Art Guild (1899) and to the creation of the Compton Pottery firm in 1901.
The present terracotta model was created using the same clay and fired in the same kiln which were used for the decorative tiles of the Chapel’s exterior. It was likely made to commemorate the building of the Chapel, perhaps as early as 1906, although it is difficult to pinpoint a precise date of production. The creator of the work was George Aubertin, a Compton villager who was likely involved in the creation of the Chapel’s tiles in his youth before joining the Guild and later becoming the Pottery manager in 1930.
With its reduced scale, the model is a fascinating miniature of one of the most accomplished social and artistic endeavours of the late-Victorian era.