Mr Arthur Watts

Arthur Watts[1]

Arthur George Watts DSO, 49, (1883-1935) was an artist and illustrator, including for E.M. Delafield‘s books. He died in a plane crash in the Alps on 20th July 1935, hurrying home after the birth of his third child.  His first wife Phyllis Gordon Sachs, also an artist, died in 1922.  They had one daughter, Alice Margaret Watts (1911-74), who became the costume designer Margaret Furse.  The essay of his second wife Marjorie Catherine Wiaora Watts née Scott, (1898-1992) whom he married in 1925, gives us a very clear view of this engaging man.  Marjorie was the daughter of the wonderfully named Horatio Francis Ninian Scott, an Australian born GP and her mother Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, née Dawson a writer of poems, plays and novels and co-founder of PEN.  Arthur and Marjorie had three children of which Marjorie Ann (1926 – 2015?), was later Secretary of PEN.[2] Her brother Simon (b1930) emigrated to the US, trained at MIT in engineering and became a furniture maker and boat builder.  Their third child, Arthur J, was born just before his father’s fatal flight. 


Assuming seating him with E.M. Delafield is too obvious and not particularly innovative, something tells me he would have got on well with Lilian Baylis.  However he would surely have been an engaging companion for anyone at the table – Winifred Holtby maybe?  we might leave it at that. 


Looking forward to a celebratory evening, probably always on the lookout for new ideas for his cartoons.  Battle hardened, he will have been watching events in Germany with much concern and had his own views on where things might be heading.  


Marjorie Watts wrote (this is an abridged and edited version)[3] : “Arthur Watts was born in Rochester on 28th April 1883, son of Alice Louisa Turnbull (1857- ) and Joseph Watts, (1833-1902), a surgeon-major in the Indian Medical Service. His father had achieved this position by hard work and dogged determination, his own father being a chemist in Peckham, and he expected his sons to enter professions. The older brother became a doctor, but Arthur, who ruined all his school exercise books with funny drawings in the margins, only wanted to draw, and sat at the bottom of the class on the Engineering side at Dulwich School for two years, until at 16 he was allowed to go to the Goldsmith’s Institute. In 1900, aged 17, he went to the Slade Art School for two years, and from there to the Free Art Schools in Antwerp, then to Paris and then back to the Slade for a short time under the redoubtable Professor Tonks. In 1904, aged 21, Arthur began to make a modest living by drawing for such papers as The Tatler, The Bystander, Pearson’s, and London Opinion, and in 1912 made his first contribution to Punch. For some years he had been interested in boats and sailing, and in 1910, whilst intending to buy a Great Dane dog through the Exchange and Mart, he saw a sailing boat advertised and bought her instead, with a centre board, mainsail and jib. He rapidly became a skilled small boat sailor and began to write illustrated articles for The Yachting Monthly.In 1911 Arthur rented No. 1, Holly Place, Hampstead, where the landlords, the Catholic Church, built up the two attics to make a studio which overlooked London and enabled their tenant to practice his ‘birds-eye’ style of drawing. In June 1913 Arthur and two friends – with a well-read copy of Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands in his pocket – set off in two boats for a three–week cruise along the Dutch and Belgian coasts as well as a host of canals and waterways. A detailed description of this voyage, with drawings of all the harbours they visited, was published in The Yachting Monthly in August 1913.A year later the First World War began. He offered his services, joined the R.N.V.R. and served throughout the war in the Dover Patrol. He led a smoke-screen flotilla at the attacks on Zeebrugge on April 23rd and at Ostend on May 10th 1918. He was awarded the D.S.O. and mentioned in Despatches”.

Lieutenant-Commander Arthur G. Watts, DSO, RNVR[4]

Arthur’s war experiences left him badly shell-shocked, and it was not until 1921 that his work began to appear again in Punch, a career which grew until its peak in 1935. For The Radio Times he provided four small drawings for the pages “Both Sides of the Microphone” every week for seven years from 1928 to 1935, never missing an issue. He also illustrated E.M. Delafields Diary of a Provincial Lady and drew a number of posters for London Transport and the old LM&S Railway”.    The Radio Times wrote:

“A big, quiet man, with ruddy, weather-beaten face, dressed almost invariably in a blue jacket and well-worn grey flannel trousers; smoking a pipe bound with tarred twine; driving a big, roomy, powerful old car; spending his summers in Cornwall, and every winter taking a skiing holiday.”  

His friend, author E.V. Lucas (husband of Mrs Elizabeth Lucas), wrote:

To [his] commanding physique he added a very shrewd outlook on affairs, continuous good humour, a laughing sympathy, and all the ingredients that make for what we call good companionship.”


Two years after the dinner Arthur died when his plane crashed in the Alps. We however would like to close with his own representation of the modern artist at work, with a lady sitter, perhaps appropriate for our dinner’s presentation. 


Ultra-modern Portrait Painter to Restive Sitter: “My dear madam, how can you expect me to obtain a good portrait of you unless you sit still?”[5]


[1]The Movies”: The Ships and Men of the Royal Navy Motor Launch Patrol 1914 – 1919; Our Portrait Study: Lieutenant-Commander Arthur G. Watts, DSO, RNVR website accessed 21.4. 2019 

[2] Ruth Gorb, Slideshow: Memories of a Wartime Childhood. By Marjorie Ann Watts, Camden Review 25.9.2014 accessed 7.5.2018  currently inaccessible

[3] With added material this is an abridged version of the article by Marjorie Watts published online in The Sailors: Amateur British & Irish Yachtsmen Before World War One, Arthur G. Watts, 1883–1935, drawing on: Arthur Watts Remembered, by Marjorie Watts December 9–February 28, 1982. An exhibition of Punch cartoons, illustrations, posters, sketches and drawings. Burgh House, New End Square, Hampstead, London NW3 ILT; itself drawing on: The Art of Arthur Watts edited by Simon Watts.   © 2014 Jeffrey Charles, accessed 7.5.2018 

[4]The Movies”: The Ships and Men of the Royal Navy Motor Launch Patrol 1914 – 1919; Our Portrait Study: Lieutenant-Commander Arthur G. Watts, DSO, RNVR website accessed 21st April 2019 

[5] The Art of Arthur Watts 


3 thoughts on “Mr Arthur Watts

  1. 1. Is Arthur George Watts related to George Frederick Watts?
    2. Did A.G. Watts ever visit the United States? Possibly New England?


  2. I have seen a painting signed : Old Lyme A. Watts Old Lyme, CT is known for many artists, impressionists, and the A.Watts painting is a landscape done in the impressionists’ style. Best, Bugi Reiff


    1. Thank you: I don’t know of any connection with George Frederic Watts, the late husband of Mrs. G Watts, or if he visited the US. But perhaps other dinner puzzle readers may know? If you have an online copy of the painting do send it or a link.


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