“Four Loves I found, a Woman, a Child, a Horse and a Hound.” George the painter, Hilda the dancer, Mary the Sculptor, the horses Robin and Guido and a Deerhound called Maggie. Introducing the Spencer Watsons of Dunshay Manor. Turn of the 19th century life. Styled.
There’s not an awful lot to say about George Spencer Watson (1869-1934), he seems to have possessed both a quiet, slightly reclusive, somehow intense presence, and yet he made sure there’s an elegant abundance for us to see and to feel. The word Arcadia came from a place, an ancient mountainous, landlocked region of Greece. The word is now used to describe a certain kind of place. An idyll, a place of rustic innocence and simple, quiet pleasure. A kind of heaven on earth.
Perhaps George Spencer Watson’s greatest achievement, his legacy, was to create such a place for him and his family.
To live it and paint it and to leave it. For us.
George studied at London’s Royal Academy School. He became an exceptional English portrait and figure painter in the late romantic school style but with an little nod to the Italian Renaissance thrown in for good measure. Watson was quickly accepted, lauded even in London’s artistic community winning Royal Academy School silver medals in 1889 and 1891. In 1909 he married the dancer and mime artist, Hilda Mary Gardiner.
Their daughter Mary was born 4 years later in 1913 and would grow up to become a celebrated sculptor.
The 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam featured an art competition. George “competed” in the sports based art event but didn’t get a medal.
Every summer season, the Spencer Watsons would leave London for an extended break on the bucolic Dorset coast. It was at this precise place on the planet that George & the Spencer Watsons chose to create his Arcadia with and for Hilda and Mary. Their forever place. In 1923 George and Hilda bought Dunshay Manor in the idyllic green hills of the Isle of Purbeck. They redesigned the gardens, added ponds and built studios. Hilda found the Mowlem Institute, a small theatre venue on Swanage seafront promenade overlooking the bay where she performed in her mime and dance company productions.
Dunshay had stables too and the family stocked it with horses – “Robin” and “Guido” – which they’d ride across the grassy dune landscape beside the beach at Studland. As a young girl Mary accompanied her mother as a dancer and, as she grew older, often outshone her mother in reviews. From here on in, George’s paintings and watercolours began to reflect the hedonistic pleasure he took in family life in the Arcadian setting of Purbeck.
Mary, a day pupil at Lesson School at Langton, began learning to work the local Purbeck stone in the quarry near Dunshay when she was 13. The same stone her her home was made of. She lived and breathed it. There were several stone quarries in and Mary developed a fascination with the masons and quarrymen she saw there working the local Purbeck stone with traditional tools. She decided to become a sculptor. She learned modelling and drawing at Bournemouth School of Art, where her father taught drawing and painting.
She went on to Slade School, making friends with the painter Hermoine Hammond who would become famous for her paintings of Second World War bomb-damaged London after the Blitz and whose father ran a military explosives factory. Mary went on to study at the Royal Academy Sculpture School and then the Central School of Art.
Over and over George painted his romantic recurring motif of his Hilda and Mary riding, leading the horses Guido and Robin in the Purbeck landscape, Maggie the Deerhound running alongside.
His own personal legend.
In 1934, George died in London at age 65 and a memorial exhibition was held for him at the Fine Art Society that year him installed in the north vestibule of St. Jame’s Church Piccadilly. Mary stayed on at Dunshay for fifty years – until her death in 2006.
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