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Peter Watson - Muses & The Beau Monde

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Victor William (Peter) Watson, born 4 September 1908, was a wealthy English art collector and benefactor.

Peter Watson is as mysterious now as he was in his heyday, so I will share with you some photos, articles, quotes and books, in the hopes that they will encourage you to delve deeper into the life of this 'Queer Saint'.


Watson was a collector – of beautiful things, of beautiful people and, most consistently, of people in whom he saw a talent for creating beauty. He was among the first in Britain to sign up wholeheartedly to Continental Modernism and he bought works fresh from the studios of Picasso, Miro, Giacometti, Klee and Dali; he sponsored composers and loved jazz; he was a founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London; he bankrolled young British painters such as Freud, Francis Bacon and John Craxton; he put up the cash for the highbrow literary-cultural magazine Horizon, whose contributor list is a roll-call of British arts and letters (Christopher Isherwood and WH Auden, George Orwell and Graham Greene, Bertrand Russell and Virginia Woolf).

- Michael Prodger, Independent


Paintings of Peter Watson

While Watson funded many pieces of art he also sat for many, including Pavel Tchelitchew, Lucian Freud and Alberto Giacometti.

Tchelitchew's portrait sold for £120,000 in The Russian Sale at Bonham's in June 2010. The location of the piece that is being painted in the picture below is unknown.

Peter Watson sits while the Russian artist Pavel Tchelitchew paints him (©The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's)
Peter Watson sits while the Russian artist Pavel Tchelitchew paints him (©The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's)


"Nothing is more awful than too much reality – I must say, I'd rather have a little fantasy for myself than all this dull reality."

- Peter Watson

Pavel Techelitchew - Study for Peter Watson Holding a Portrait of Peter Watson


Stephen Spender, the English poet, novelist and essayist, recalled to Connolly's biographer, Clive Fisher, that Watson hated "priggishness, pomposity and almost everything to do with public life," and he suspected that he had educated himself "through a love of beautiful works and of people in whom he saw beauty ...". He added:

"When I think of him then, I think of his clothes, which were beautiful, his general neatness and cleanness, which seemed almost those of a handsome young Bostonian."


John Craxton, R.A. - ELEGIAC FIGURE

(In memory of Peter Watson)

"My friendship with Peter Watson really began in 1941. Due to the war he had been forced to leave his flat in Paris with its collection of paintings, and had installed himself in a flat in 10 Palace Gate, London. I remember when I called there Colquhoun and MacBryde were temporarily in residence, on the walls were ‘Entrance to a Lane’ and ‘Gorse on a Sea Wall’ by Sutherland, a marvellous Christopher Wood, Picasso's ‘Minotauromachy’ to name but a few. Lucian and I were often there, going through old Cahiers d'Art, Minotaur, and Verve. Peter's records were also a revelation to me. I could listen to Stravinsky, Berg, Bartok, Hindemith and Jean Francaix for the first time. In 1942 he encouraged me to find a studio and send him the bill. Lucian joined me in sharing a maisonette in St. Johns Wood."

- John Craxton, letter postmarked 16th June 1986

“Pavel Tchelitchew and Peter Watson in Watson’s home, London, 1930”


Reading Recommendations & Content Considerations


Adrain Clark and Jeremy Dronfield


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