Lot 4
  • 4

GEORGE FREDERIC WATTS, O.M., R.A. | Ellen Terry Asleep

7,000 - 10,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Attributed to George Frederic Watts, O.M., R.A.
  • Ellen Terry Asleep
  • inscribed l.l.: Ellen Terry
  • pencil
  • 16 by 18cm., 6½ by 7in.


Bequeathed by the artist to his adopted daughter Lilian Chapman and her husband Michael Chapman and thence by descent until 2004;
Sotheby's, 1 July 2004, lot 301 where purchased by the present owner


London, Tate Gallery, George Frederic Watts O.M., R.A. 1817-1904, 1954-1955, no.19;
London, National Portrait Gallery, G.F. Watts: Portraits, Fame and Beauty in Victorian Society, 2004-2005, no.45

Catalogue Note

It is believed that this portrait drawing was made in 1864 at the time that Ellen Terry was posing for the famous Choosing (National Portrait Gallery, London). Watts had painted Ellen in 1862 with her elder sister Kate (Eastnor Castle Collection) when they were both rising actresses. Watts fell in love with Ellen and wanted to protect her from what he saw as a dubious profession on the stage and in the same year as this drawing he proposed to her. They were married on 20 November 1864; he was forty-seven and she was almost seventeen. The marriage was not successful and they separated after ten months. Ellen became the most successful actress of her age whilst Watts became one of the most respected, diverse and visionary painters of his generation. 

This drawing depicts a highly intimate moment in the artist's studio with Ellen sleeping between sittings; 'Watts, as if unable or unwilling to wake her, carries on with a pencil drawing of great tenderness, which seems to open a hitherto closed window on their relationship. It portrays a moment in their private life at Little Holland House, and seems to strip away all the words, gossip and opinions about ill-fated marriage over the past 150 years.' (Barbara Bryant, G.F. Watts: Portraits, Fame and Beauty in Victorian Society, 2004-2005, p.137)