Art History, Art Nouveau, Artists, Movement/Style

An Art Nouveau Chapel

The Watts Cemetery Chapel or Watts Mortuary Chapel is one of the most remarkable Art Nouveau buildings in Britain. This chapel is in an Art Nouveau version of Celtic Revival style, it’s located in the village cemetery of Compton in Surrey (England). It was designed and built by the artist Mary-Fraser Tytler.

The building is the perfect combination of Romanesque Revival and Celtic Revival styles. The overall architecture structure is loosely Romanesque Revival, in the absence of any appropriate Celtic models, the lavish decoration in terracotta relief carving and painting is Celtic Revival, but here seen on an unusual large scale. The ground plan is essentially circular, from the outside the building has the look of a Roman Italianate chapel. According to the local council, it is “a unique concoction of art nouveau, Celtic, Romanesque and Egyptian influence with Mary’s original style”. And it’s a Grade I listed building.

Watts Chapel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the Compton Parish Council created a new cemetery, local artist Mary Fraser-Tytler, offered to design and build a new mortuary chapel. She was the second wife of local painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts. She was a follower of the Home Arts and Industries Association set up in 1885 to encourage handicrafts among the lower classes, and the chapel was the contribution of Watts’s family to this characteristically Victorian worry with social improvement through creative enlightenment.

Detail of exterior reliefs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The chapel was constructed from 1896 to 1898 by a group of amateurs and enthusiasts, many of whom later went on with Mary to found the Compton Potter’s Art. Local villagers were invited to decorate the chapel under Mary’s guidance, resulting in an interior that fuses art nouveau and Celtic influences, combined with Mary’s own original style.

The ceiling with the four seraphs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Interior decoration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Both Watts have memorials in the cloister, just a few yards from the chapel, and a number of the memorials throughout the small cemetery use unglazed terracotta, even from dates after the Compton Pottery closed in the 1950s.

The Cloister (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Chapel is open Monday to Friday: 8am – 5pm, Saturday to Sunday and Bank Holidays: 10am – 5:30pm and is managed by the nearby Watts Gallery celebrating the architect and her husband. There is no charge.


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