Mary Seton Watts (also known as Mary Fraser-Tytler, Mary Fraser-Tytler)

Mary Seton Watts, nee Mary Fraser-Tytler, was a Scottish artist active in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

She was born in India in 1849, the daughter of Charles Edward Fraser-Tytler and Etheldred St Barbe (died 1851) owners of Aldourie Castle, Inverness-shire, Scotland. Mary moved to Aldourie in 1851 and spent much of her youth there. In 1861 she moved to Sanquhar House, Morayshire, Scotland.

In 1886 she married the English painter and sculptor, George Frederic Watts (born 1817, died 1904) and in 1887 moved to Kensington, London, England where she studied art at South Kensington Training School and the Slade. In 1890 she met a young orphan, Lilian (also known as Lily) Mackintosh who came to live with them.

Mary also studied clay modelling and travelled widely. She was a supporter of the Home Arts and Industries Association, which had formed in 1884 to help revive traditional rural crafts under threat by mechanisation and urbanization, and was a fervent believer in art for all.

In 1896 she founded The Compton Potters' Art Guild, initially known as Compton Terracotta Home Arts, which had grown from an amateur clay modelling evening class. This was a manufactory of terracotta ornaments, based in Compton, near Guildford in Surrey, where her husband had in 1890 purchased land for a new house to be built by Ernest George, later known as 'Limnerslease'.

Its works were much used by garden designers and architects, particularly in the early 20th century. Works from them were commissioned by Gertrude Jekyll, Edwin Lutyens, Goodhart Rendell and Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.

The Watts Mortuary Chapel (begun 1895, complete 1904) in Compton was designed and built by her in memory of her husband and decorated by villagers and young apprentice Compton potters.

In addition to Compton, Mary also set up a professional Pottery Arts Guild at Aldourie in 1900. This was run by Louis Deuchars. She also produced several designs for textiles.

Many of the designs for both guilds' works were in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles and several were produced by Alexander Knox. Examples of both guilds' wares, particularly their 'snake pots' and Celtic designs, were sold at Liberty & Co. and most were marked with a large circular manufacturer's stamp and workman's initials. Some of their pieces were exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show and achieved Royal Botanical Society and Royal Horticultural Society medals.

The Compton Guild was made a limited company in 1936 and continued to produce works, even after Mary's death in 1938, up until the mid-1950s.

Upon her death in 1938 Mary's estate passed to Lilian.

Sources:

Bryant, Barbara Coffey, ‘Watts, George Frederic (1817–1904)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2007) <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36781> [accessed 19 Dec 2007]

Historic Scotland, Gardens and Designed Landscapes, An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland, Site History, 'Aldourie', <http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/gardens_search_more_info.htm?PageID=2152&bool=0&more_info=Site&r=Central+and+West&s=> [accessed 19 December 2007]

The National Archives, National Register of Archives, Person Details, 'Watts, Mary Seton (1849-1938), painter, wife of George Frederic Watts, Fraser-Tytler (Maiden name)', GB/NNAF/P185409, <http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/searches/subjectView.asp?ID=P50727> [accessed 19 December 2007]

-Family and Estate Details, 'Edward family and Fraser Tytler family of Sanquhar House', GB/NNAF/F81851, <http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/searches/subjectView.asp?ID=F8383> [accessed 19 December 2007]

National Portrait Gallery, Research, Archive Documents, 'G.F. Watts', <http://www.npg.org.uk/live/rswattsintro.asp>[accessed 19 December 2007]

University College London, Explore Watts Memorial Chapel, 'Mary Seton Watts', <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museumstudies/websites07/hallaway/marywatts.html> [accessed 19 December 2007]

Van der Werff, Rupert and Jackie Rees, Miller's Garden Antiques: How to Source and Identify (Octopus Publishing Group, 2003)

The Watts Gallery, 'A Brief History of the Watts Gallery',<http://www.wattsgallery.org.uk/> [accessed 19 December 2007]

Further reading:

Calvert, Hilary, Compton (Veronica Franklin Gould, 1990)

Gould, Veronica Franklin,Archibald Knox and Mary Seton Watts, Pioneers of “Modern Celtic Art” Garden Pottery’, in Archibald Knox, ed. Stephen A. Martin (Art Media, 2001)

-ed., Mary Seton Watts (1849-1938) Unsung Heroine of the Art Nouveau (Watts Gallery, 1998)

Associated Places