Full Name: Watson, Francis John Bagott, Sir
Date Born: 1907
Date Died: 1992
Place Born: Dudley, West Midlands, England, UK
Place Died: Wiltshire, England, UK
Home Country/ies: United Kingdom
Subject Area(s): decorative arts (art genre) and furniture
Curator and later director of the Wallace Collection, 1937-74; authority on furniture. Watson was the son of Hugh Watson, a school principal (headmaster) and Ellen Marian Bagott (Watson). He attended Dudley grammar school and Shrewsbury School, before entering St. John’s College, Cambridge University, graduating in 1929 in mathematics and English. After graduating he traveled in France and Italy, returning to join Brentano’s publishing house in 1929 until it closed, and the following year the Harold Shaylor publishing firm. In 1934 he accepted the position of registrar at the fledgling Courtauld Institute of Art where his duties included operating the slide-projector. Working for the Courtauld gained him an appreciation for the history of art. He also met numerous art historians, including most significantly Charles F. Bell, the retired Keeper of fine arts collection at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Bell would leave his personal library to Watson). When James G. Mann resigned from the Courtauld to be Director of the Wallace Collection, London, he offered Watson a position as assistant. At the Wallace, Watson began compiling the catalog of furniture (published 1956) and wrote an article on Thomas Patch between 1939-1940. During World War II her served in the Admiralty. He married an eccentric cat fancier Mary “Jane” Rosalie Gray (1904-1969) in 1941. At the end of the war, he returned to the Wallace in 1945. In 1947 he became deputy surveyor of the royal collection of works of art. His first monograph, on Canaletto appeared in 1949. In 1963 Watson succeeded Mann as director of the Wallace Collection, and promotion to surveyor of the queen’s works of art. His monographs on Fragonard and Tiepolo appeared in 1966 and 1967, respectively. A five-volume catalog of the Charles Wrightsman collection began appearing in 1966 (through 1973). He was Slade professor of fine art at Oxford for the 1969-1970 academic year. The following year he was named chairman of the Walpole Society (through 1976). In 1973 he was knighted. Watson retired from both his positions the following year, remaining as an advisor to the Royal Collection. In 1969, after the death of his wife, Watson adopted a son, Ch’eng Huan, whom the two had known as a Cambridge law student from China. In his retirement he consulted for a number of institutions, including the J. Paul Getty Museum. His adopted son, became a distinguish lawyer in Hong Kong, purchasing a home in Wiltshire for Watson, where Watson died in 1992. Watson was a principal advisor to the collection of Charles and Jayne Wrightsman, whose collection was ultimately given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His interest in conservation led to workshops on furniture and armor conservation. His knowledge eighteenth-century art included not only the literature and history of the period but economic and social history as well. A fastidious raconteur, he and toured the British and later American society circles.
Canaletto. London: New York: P. Elek, 1949; Eighteenth Century Venice: an Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. London: Shenval Press, 1951; Furniture [in the] Wallace Collection. London: Wallace Collection, Hertford House, 1956; Louis XVI Furniture. London: Alec Tiranti, 1960; The Wrightsman Collection. 5 vols. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art/New York Graphic Society, 1966-1973; Jean-Honore´ Fragonard. Milan: Fabbri, 1966; Giambattista Tiepolo. London: Knowledge Publications, 1967; Chinese Porcelains in European Mounts. New York: China House Gallery, China Institute in America, 1980.
Walker, John. Self-portrait with Donors: Confessions of an Art Collector. Boston: Little, Brown, 1974, pp. 270-77; Howard, Jeremy. “Looking After the Crockery . . . Sir Francis Watson’s Last Interview.” Apollo 137 (January 1993): 3-5; Warren, Jeremy. “Watson, Sir Francis John Bagott (1907-1992).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004; [obituaries:] de Bellaigue, Geoffrey. “Francis John Bagott Watson.” Proceedings of the British Academy 84 (1994): 565-77; Ford, Brinsley. “Sir Francis Watson.” The Independent (London), October 5, 1992, p. 17; The Times (London) September 29,1992; Ingamells, John. “Francis Watson: Connoisseur of the Collection.” The Guardian (London), October 2, 1992, p. 35; De Bellaigue, Geoffrey. Burlington Magazine 134 (1992): 811.