Collection Online
Love and Death
oil on canvas
114.3 × 57.3 cm
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1888
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
Gallery location
19th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International

Exhibited Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial exhibition, Melbourne, 1887–88; from where purchased for the NGV, 1888.

Exhibited Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial exhibition, Melbourne, 1887–88; Victorian Olympians, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 20 June –20 July 1975, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 12 August –14 September 1975, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 26 September –26 October 1975, no. 43

Love and Death was a subject that occupied G. F. Watts for nearly forty years. He painted at least twelve versions of this theme, four of them over two meters in height. There are also eight smaller versions, such as this one. All the paintings show the naked boy-god Eros (Love) straining to deny a grey-cloaked Death entry to the realm of the living. Death’s power has already withered the roses around the doorway, and Love’s efforts prove fruitless.


Original Watts frame, by W. A. Smith, London

This is a fine example of the frame that carries the artist’s name, on one of his own paintings.1 The other painting in the collection by Watts, Alfred Tennyson, (p.312.9-1), purchased the same year as this one, is framed in an identical frame carrying the same label. Both paintings were shown at the Grosvenor Gallery Intercolonial Exhibition, Melbourne 1887–8, as numbers 142 and 139 respectively.2 It is reasonable to assume that the paintings were given identical frames by the same framemaker for the exhibition. The style adopted by Watts was popular in the late nineteenth century, and was literally copied or used in variant form by a number of framemakers. Characteristically, in the construction of the Smith frame the veneered flat is joined in the vertical, not as the veneer over a mitred chassis. The frame may not be the first framing of the painting.


1  For a discussion of the Watts frame, see ‘Artists’ frames from Watts to Whistler’ in Jacob Simon, The Art of the Picture Frame, National Portrait Gallery, 1996, pp. 73–77. W. A. Smith took over the framing of Watts’ paintings from Joseph Green in the early 1870s. (Jacob Simon, the Art of the Picture Frame, p. 173. See also Mitchell and Roberts, A History of European Picture Frames, p. 69).  Another Watt's frame by W.A Smith appears on Corn Threshing in Tuscany by Arthur Lemon (756-2).

2  I am indebted to the research of Annette Dixon, former Curator of European Art, National Gallery of Victoria, who first sourced this reference.

W. A. Smith
20 & 22 Mortimer Street, Regent Street, London, W.

The frame is made up from three sections: the outer frame, the flat, and the inner frame. The flat is oak veneer on a pine base and is butt-joined in the vertical as a complete section. There are three passages of composition ornament. The flat is gilded on the wood leaving the oak grain to show. The other surfaces appear to be matte gilded. The gilding is of a high quality with the junctions of the leaf sections remaining indistinct.


The frame is in good original condition with abrasion to the gilding of the leading edge.

145.5 x 89.0 x 5.5 cm; sight 113.0 x 56.0 cm
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National Portrait Gallery


Location of stamp
Centre upper half reverse of canvas
Ink stamp
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National Portrait Gallery