The painter and printmaker, Charles John Watson, grounded his work in close observation of the world around him, in the tradition of the best artists of the Norwich School. His resulting achievements include incisive etchings and highly atmospheric watercolours of buildings, landscapes and coastal scenes at home and abroad.
Charles John Watson was born at 3 Upper Surrey Street, Norwich, Norfolk, on 31 August 1846, the second of four children of Daniel Filby Watson, a journeyman printseller, and his wife, Mary Ann (née Matthews). By 1861, the family had moved a short distance to All Saints Green, and Charles’s father, Daniel, was working as a carver and gilder. However, Daniel died in 1865, and his widow took up his former business as a printseller.
Charles John Watson himself initially worked an artists’ colourman, but obviously had ambitions to become an artist and, by his mid twenties, was beginning to exhibit paintings and etchings at leading London galleries. These included the Royal Academy, the Society of British Artists, the Institute of Painters in Water Colours and, most significantly, the Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers.
Watson was one of the earliest fellows of the Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, joining after the ‘Allcomers’ exhibition in spring 1881, and exhibiting a considerable number of etchings between then and 1920, with increasing artistic success. (The society gained its Royal Charter in 1888.) While establishing himself with scenes of Norfolk, he soon widened his repertoire.
In 1885, Watson helped found the Norwich Art Circle, with Edward Elliott and Robert Bagge-Scott, and became its first president.
Other early members included Minna Bolingbroke, his junior by 10 years, who would later become his wife. Despite his strong affiliations to Norfolk, and to Norwich in particular, including his knowledge of the history of local artists, he moved to London in 1888. Settling in Chelsea, he took a studio at 5 Wentworth Studios, Manresa Road, and produced work for a series of shows at Robert Dunthorne’s Gallery in Vigo Street, often inspired by his travels in France, Holland and Italy (including Venice and Sicily). He also became a member of the Hogarth Club, in Dover Street. By 1893, he had sufficiently raised his profile that he won a medal at Chicago’s International Exhibition.
Marrying in Norwich in 1894, Charles and Minna settled at 19 Girdlers Road, Brook Green, Hammersmith, London, where they were joined by Minna’s elder sister, Constance. The Watsons worked closely together until the death of Charles on 2 November 1927. Four years later, in 1931, Minna published a Catalogue of the Etched and Engraved Work of Charles John Watson.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the V&A; and the Castle Museum (Norwich).