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In the frame

George Frederic Watts’s Physical Energy horseman rides into the RA—again

George Frederic Watts, Physical Energy. New cast after model created (around 1883-1902) courtesy Gareth Harris

History repeats itself at the Royal Academy of Arts with the unveiling today in the main courtyard of the imposing equine sculpture Physical Energy by George Frederic Watts. The statue of a heroic male figure on a rearing horse is a new cast of a work first exhibited on the site in 1904 (the first bronze cast was the artist’s last submission to the RA’s Summer Exhibition the same year). Watts started on the horse and rider in 1884 and they became the companions of his later life, on which he was still working shortly before his death. He would have the four-metre high model trundled out of his studio to chisel away at the stone-hard mixture of rough plaster, glue and chopped hemp (gesso grosso) built up on a wooden framework, occasionally adding new plaster and filing it down. The RA piece is bound for Watts Gallery-Artists Village near Guilford where the plaster model is kept. Physical Energy will be an heroic, eye-catching addition to the Surrey countryside, as well as a dramatic marker close to where Watts once lived and worked with his wife Mary. “With a third posthumous cast of this great work as a new landmark for Surrey, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the region’s most famous artist and the unique artists’ village which Watts bequeathed to today’s visitors,” Perdita Hunt, the former director of the Watts Gallery Trust, told us earlier this year.