Arthur Watts (illustrator)

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Arthur Watts
Born 28 April 1883
Rochester, Kent, England
Died 20 July 1935
Pian San Giacomo, Graubünden, Switzerland
Spouse(s) Phyllis Sachs (first), Margerie Dawson Scott (second)-1935 (his death)
Children Margaret
Marjorie Ann
Website The Art of Arthur Watts

Arthur George Watts DSO (1883–1935) was an illustrator and artist who was killed in an airplane crash in the Swiss Alps.

Early life and education[edit]

Watts was born in Rochester, Kent in 1883 the son of Joseph Watts, Deputy Surgeon-General in the Indian Medical Service Indian Army and his wife Alice. His father retired early and the family lived in Dulwich and Norwood in south-east London where the family usually employed a resident cook, housemaid and a nurse while the children were young.[1]

Educated at Dulwich College Watts was a talented artist from an early age and inked funny drawings in the margins of his school books, at Crystal Palace Poster Academy he was awarded a silver medal for merit in 1901. From the age of 17 he was educated at the Slade School of Fine Art from where he went to the Free Arts Schools in Antwerp and then Paris, Moscow and Madrid. He was reportedly one of the London arts schools crowd who holidayed regularly in St Ives, Cornwall during the Edwardian period.[2]

A naval motor launch of World War I

Naval service[edit]

Watts served in World War I in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve attaining the rank of Commander and receiving the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery in the Zeebrugge Raid in 1918.[3]

He received a temporary commission as sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in December 1914,[4] and on 18 December 1915 he was promoted to temporary lieutenant.[5] In command of motor launch ML.239 in April 1918 he played a distinguished part in the "combined operation" known as the Zeebrugge Raid, also participating in the operations at Ostendin May 1918 when HMS Vindictive was sunk to block the harbor entrance. Watts was awarded the Distinguished Service Order as an acting lieutenant-commander on 27 August 1918.[6]


Punch magazine humour 1930's.

By 1904 he was providing humorous and other illustrations for papers such as the Tatler, the Bystander, Pearson's Magazine and London Opinion.[7] In 1911 Watts was living with his wife of 1 year and their baby daughter Margaret at 21A Regents Park Road in central London where he worked from a studio at home as a successful illustrator.[8]

His first drawing for Punch, the English humour magazine, was published in 1912 and his work, particularly cartoons, continued to appear regularly until the time of his death having become a regular feature after 1921. He also did four drawings a week for the Radio Times; illustrated about a dozen books, including Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield; and designed travel posters for the railways and the London Underground. He edited and illustrated A Painter's Anthology.

Many of Watts' cartoons highlighted the class distinctions that existed in Britain in the nineteen-twenties and thirties. They offered a social commentary and an acute observation of differences in accent, vocabulary, dress, drinking habits and even table manners. Some of his sharpest barbs were aimed at the 'modern' art of the period, the nouveau riche, day trippers, social climbers and hen-pecked husbands. His contorted figures in paint, plaster and stone are clever caricatures of what he saw around him.[9]


Watts married Phyllis Sachs a fellow artist in 1910, they had a daughter Margaret who achieved fame herself. Phyllis died in 1922 and in 1925 he remarried to Marjorie Dawson Scott (daughter of PEN Club founder Catherine Amy Dawson Scott[10]), by whom he had three children.[11] The family lived in Holly-place, Hampstead.[12][13] Their daughter, Marjorie Ann Watts, also became an illustrator, and a writer.[14] His son, Simon Watts (born 1930), emigrated to the United States and graduated from MIT with an engineering degree. He chose, instead, to pursue a career as a furniture maker and boat builder and is the author of several books on woodworking and boat building.

Death in an air crash[edit]

Douglas DC-2 in KLM service.

He was killed at about 12:15 hours on Saturday, 20 July 1935 when travelling aboard KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Douglas DC-2 (registration "PH-AKG") named "Gaai" on a scheduled flight from Milan, Italy to Amsterdam, Netherlands via Frankfurt, Germany. The aircraft which had recently been delivered from the manufacturers took off from Milan at 11:36 hours and while flying at 5000m altitude suffered with ice build up having to descend to 3000m at which altitude it was flying between mountains surrounded by clouds. Reportedly the crew may have entered the wrong mountain pass as they circled a valley in cloud and rain possibly attempting to force land wheels-up when the aircraft stalled and crashed near the San Bernardino Pass near Pian San Giacomo, killing all four crew and all nine passengers.[15]

Watts was hurrying home from Milan to be with his wife who had given birth to their third child 4 days earlier.[16]

The Times of London on 22 July 1935 carried an article "Dutch Air Disaster: Liner's crash in Alps" which states that the accident occurred a short distance south of the San Bernardino Pass on the Pian San Giacomo a small plateau between high mountains at an altitude of 3,845 feet, about 2.5 miles from the village of Mesocco. The story reported that the aircraft was at loo low an altitude to fly over the mountains towards San Bernardino but found the southern end of the pass blocked by a mass of dark clouds. At that time it was believed to have either been struck by lightning or dragged down by an air current as it suddenly hit the ground from a height of 600 feet. Rescuers found everybody dead, except for a woman who died soon afterwards. When police attended they recovered a large amount of money and mail-bags. An investigations found that the storm in the area had been so violent that swollen rivers had swept away two bridges, the local power plant had been put out of action and that the weather had played a significant part in the accident. The dead were removed to a small chapel at San Giacomo to await instructions for their disposition.[17]

Legacy of work[edit]

Articles and Essays by Arthur Watts

  • Black and White Drawing - Solving Some of Its Problems.
  • A Three-Legged Cruise - A four-part article originally published in the August, September, October and November 1913 issues of the Yachting Monthly.
  • The Scented Trawler - Recounts a brief adventure at sea while on duty with the Auxlilary Patrol during World War I. Originally published in the August, 1917 issue of the Yachting Monthly.

Books Illustrated by Arthur Watts

  • A Painter's Anthology - Arthur Watts
  • Diary of a Provincial Lady - E M Delafield
  • The Provincial Lady in London - E M Delafield
  • The Provincial Lady Goes Further - E M Delafield
  • Poems of Impudence - Evoe E V Knox
  • So, This is Science - H F Ellis
  • The Navy and Defense - Lord Chatfield (includes a single sketch which Watts provided for an event aboard HMS Repulse at which time he also produced this illustration for Punch)
  • Peeps at Parnasus: A Delicious Survey, Half Parody, Half Caricature, of the Whole Pageant of English Verse-Malicious and Gay. - Olga Katzin
  • The Tragedy of Mr. Punch: A Fantastic Play in Prologue and One Act - Russell Thorndike and Reinald Arkell
  • The Horoscope. A Biographical Poem in Three Books With an Epilogue. - Horace Horsnell


  1. ^ England & Wales Census, 1891 and 1900
  2. ^ The Times - Obituary - 22 July 1935
  3. ^ Bryant, Mark. World War I in Cartoons. London: Grub Street Pub, 2006, page 9, ISBN 190494356X
  4. ^ "No. 29021". The London Gazette. 29 December 1914. p. 11135. 
  5. ^ "No. 29475". The London Gazette. 15 February 1915. p. 1688. 
  6. ^ "No. 30870". The London Gazette. 27 August 1918. p. 10089. 
  7. ^ askART Website - Arthur Watts
  8. ^ England & Wales Census, 1911
  9. ^ askART Website - Arthur Watts
  10. ^
  11. ^ The Times - Obituary - 22 July 1935
  12. ^ National Probate Registry, 1935 - Arthur George Watts
  13. ^ "No. 34208". The London Gazette. 15 October 1935. p. 6516. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ AviationSafetyNetwork - Crash on 20 July 1935
  16. ^ The Times - Obituary- 22 July 1935
  17. ^ The Times, Dutch Air Disaster article - 22 July 1935

External links[edit]

  • (The Art of Arthur Watts) was a Web site maintained by the family of Arthur Watts.
  • The Art of Arthur Watts, Simon Watts (editor), Ottawa: Lee Valley, 2003