Hope (painting)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Hope (second version)
Assistants and George Frederic Watts - Hope - Google Art Project.jpg
Artist George Frederic Watts
Year 1886
Type Oil
Dimensions 142.2 cm × 111.8 cm (56.0 in × 44.0 in)
Location Watts Gallery (loan from Tate Britain)

Hope is a Symbolist oil painting by George Frederic Watts, two versions of which were completed in 1886. The painting was intended to form part of a series of allegorical paintings by Watts entitled the "House of Life". In 2016 the version owned by Tate Britain was on loan to the Watts Gallery in Surrey, and on display there.


The painting by George Frederic Watts shows a female allegorical figure of Hope.[1] Hope is traditionally identifiable through the attribute of an anchor, but Watts took a more original approach. In his painting, she is depicted sitting on a globe, blindfolded, clutching a wooden lyre with only one string left intact. She sits in a hunched position, with her head leaning towards the instrument, perhaps so she can hear the faint music she can make with the sole remaining string. According to Watts, "Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord". The desolate atmosphere is emphasised by Watts's soft brushwork, creating a misty, ethereal scene, in tones of green, brown and grey. Watts's melancholy depiction of hope was criticised, and G. K. Chesterton suggested that a better title would be Despair.

Two versions were painted by Watts in 1886, shortly after the death of Watts's adopted daughter Blanche. The first version – now held in a private collection – was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886 and received so successfully that he painted a second copy.[2] Watts himself preferred the second, softer, version. It omits the star – a symbol of optimism – that appears at the top of the first version. It was exhibited at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) and at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889. Watts refused an offer of 2000 guineas for the second version in 1888, and presented it to the Tate in 1897.[3] The version held by the Tate measures 142.2 centimetres (56.0 in) by 111.8 centimetres (44.0 in).

Watts may have been inspired by the pose of the siren in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's 1877 painting A Sea Spell, or the sleeping women in Albert Joseph Moore's 1882 painting Dreamers. Watts may have taken inspiration for the blindfold from the allegorical figure of Fortune in Edward Burne-Jones's 1871 painting The Wheel of Fortune, which Watts owned. The painting was displayed at the 1897 Manchester Jubilee Exhibition, alongside other works by Watts including Love and Death, The Court of Death, Psyche, and Mount Ararat.

Influence on others[edit]

Hope inspired a scene from a 1922 film of the same name by Herbert Blaché and Lejaren à Hiller, featuring Mary Astor as Hope, and an advertisement by IBM in the 1920s.[citation needed] It has been suggested as an influence on Picasso's early Blue Period paintings, especially the hunched musician in The Old Guitarist.[4] Martin Luther King Jr referenced Hope in his sermon Shattered Dreams in his collection of sermons, Strength to Love.. Nelson Mandela reportedly had a print of the painting on the wall of his prison cell on Robben Island.[citation needed] After Egypt was defeated by Israel during the Six-Day War the Egyptian government issued copies of it to its troops.[4]

The painting was the subject of a lecture by Dr Frederick G. Sampson in Richmond, Virginia, in the late 1980s, who described it as a study in contradictions. The lecture was attended by Jeremiah Wright and inspired him to give a sermon in 1990 on the subject of Hope – "with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God ... To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope ... that's the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt's painting."[5] Having attended the sermon, Barack Obama later adopted the phrase "audacity of hope" as the title for his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address, and as the title of his second book.[6]


  1. ^ Tumposky, Ellen (27 December 2008). "Victorian painting by G.F. Watts inspired Obama to harp on 'Hope'". New York Daily News. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 
  2. ^ Watts Gallery (2008). "Hope by G. F. Watts". Watts Gallery. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 
  3. ^ Hare, William Loftus. Watts, 1817–1904 (1907 ed.). T.C. & E.C. Jack; New York, Frederick A. Stokes. - Total pages: 20
  4. ^ a b Barlow, Paul (2004). "Where there's life there's". Tate. Archived from the original on 2004-09-11. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 
  5. ^ Sermon printed in Preaching Today, 1990.
  6. ^ Sooke, Alastair (13 November 2008). "Barack Obama's favourite painting". The Telegraph. Retrieved 12 March 2010. 

External links[edit]