On 15 April 1870 William Morris wrote to his wife Janey (who at the time was having an affair with Dante Gabriel Rossetti), ‘I am going to sit to Watts this afternoon, though I have got a devil of a cold-in-the-head, which don’t make it very suitable.’ Perhaps a combination of the cold and his depression at the failure of his marriage accounts for the slightly rheumy look of his portrait. According to Mrs Watts, it was painted at a single sitting, although it is possible that Watts may have done more work on it when it was exhibited in 1880. Otherwise, there is singlularly little contemporary comment on it, apart from a later and well judged remark by G.K. Chesterton that ‘There is something appropriate in the way in which the living, leonine head projects from a background of green and silver decoration. This immersion of a singularly full-blooded and aggressive man in the minutiae of aesthetics was a paradox that attracted men to Morris’.
And weeks later, I went to the gallery and saw the Potrait live.