An artist’s house, a live-work space in modern real estate terms, is a long-held curiosity for art lovers. “The wonderful dichotomy of the artist’s home is that it is at once personal and representative,” says curator Valerie Balint, who is the program manager at the Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios association. Dedicated fans often make pilgrimages to these locations, hoping to find insight on the artist’s creative process. “The studios, which are also often present at these sites, are the very crucible of creativity and art-making itself and touch the universal creative spark that resides in all of us,” says Balint.
So how did great artists choose to live, and how did their homes reflect their personal and professional lives? Did they favor a tidy, minimal space, like American artist Donald Judd, or did their interior design resemble the chaos of their art-making process, like Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock? “Beyond this insight into specific aesthetic sensibilities,” Balint says, “these homes are also where artists played out their life narratives, with family and friends; with all the trials, tribulations and triumphs that we all go through. This makes the artist someone accessible and that visitors can relate to, and people find that exciting.”
Artists’ homes often offer an intimacy that museums cannot. It’s an immersive and often tactile experience, which Balint says is different than reading about an artist, or seeing the work in a museum. She affirms, “Each has a genius loci, which is palpable when you are there; the power of the place is strong.” Balint explains that “to preserve these homes is to preserve the stories of ourselves and our cultural legacy through the lens of these diverse artists throughout history. In all their varied expression, they are as a group a fragile and irreplaceable thing, which need champions to ensure their future.”
Our editors visited four of the most famous artist houses across Britain and the United States. Read about our experiences below.
The Watts Gallery Artists’ Village
The Watts Gallery Artists’ Village is a remnant of the unparalleled generosity and social ambition of the Victorian and British Arts and Crafts movements — during which many significant institutions were established, such as the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Victorian painter George Frederic Watts (1817–1904) and his wife, ceramicist and designer Mary Watts, were firm believers in the concept of “Art for All.” It was in this spirit that they built an artist village in Compton, Surrey.
G. F. Watts was widely considered to be Britain’s leading Victorian painter and was even referred to as “England’s Michelangelo.” He and his wife discovered Compton while visiting friends and were so taken by the beauty of the area that they chose it for a second home in the countryside. They commissioned a half-timbered style house by Sir Ernest George, one of the leading architects of the Arts & Crafts movement. The house was called Limnerslease, which is a contraction of two words: “limner,” the Old English word for artist, and “lease,” which refers to hope for the future. According to Lucy Ashley of Watts Gallery, “the juxtaposition of home, gallery, and pottery perfectly symbolizes the inextricable links between the private and public lives of George and Mary Watts. This is just what they intended and just as it should be.”
Mary Watts was dedicated to producing work reflective of the local area, both by using its natural resources and by generating education and employment opportunities for others who lived in the area. She was responsible for establishing the Compton Potters’ Arts Guild, a commercial enterprise that trained and employed young men and women from the area between the early 1900s and the 1950s. Under her instruction, they built and decorated the Watts Cemetery Chapel using a seam of clay she had discovered at Limnerslease. “With its flamboyant mixture of Celtic and Byzantine design, the chapel is so original in conception and execution that to find its equivalent we must look not to this country but to artists and architects associated with Art Nouveau in France or Jugenstil in Germany and Austria,” says Ashley.
Until the end of World War I, Limnerslease continued to be a place of pilgrimage and a hub for artists. In 1908, a special train was scheduled from Waterloo to Guildford to carry delegates of the International Art Congress heading to Compton.
Much of the original artist village and one wing of the Limnerslease house is open to the public today. In addition, the couple gifted to the public the Watts Gallery, the UK’s first single-artist gallery, which regularly hosts artist residencies and offers a full exhibition schedule.
Hoglands: Henry Moore Studios & Gardens
“We’re here at a village called Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. Do you know this part? It’s surprisingly pretty and unspoilt for so near to London (27 mls). I think we may stay here for some time.”
– Henry Moore, writing in a letter from 1940
Set against over 70 acres of garden and countryside that are open to the public, Henry Moore’s sculpture gardens are one of Britain’s most popular artistic attractions outside of London today.
Moore and his wife, Irina, moved to a hamlet called Much Hadham, close to the village of Perry Green, where they were able to rent half of a former farmhouse called Hoglands. Upon the 1939 sale of an early elmwood Reclining Figure for £300 to fellow artist Gordon Onslow Ford, Moore and his wife purchased the house, gardens, and outbuildings, which would later become his studios. Although Moore’s reputation and wealth grew throughout his career, he and Irina remained at the farmhouse for the rest of their lives. “Hoglands was the nerve center of what happened when Henry Moore was working here – everything seemed to originate here,” said Tim Llewelyn, former director of the Henry Moore Foundation.
A refurbishment of the house and gardens was completed in 2007, when it was opened to public visitors with furnishings donated by the Henry Moore Family Collection.
Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center
“To stand and look down at the paint-stained floor at the Krasner-Pollock studio is a transformative experience even if you have seen the finished paintings a thousand times. It is an experience that cannot be replicated outside of the place itself.”
– Valerie Balint, Historic Artist Homes Association
Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock moved to 830 Springs-Fireplace Road in Springs, East Hampton, a quintessential 19th century home built in 1879, on November 5, 1945. The couple borrowed $2,000 for a down payment on the house from Peggy Guggenheim, Pollock’s dealer, which enabled them to get a $3,000 mortgage for the house from the East Hampton bank. They later bought the land adjacent to the property and eventually owned five acres.
Initially, Krasner had a studio in the back parlor of the house, and Pollock painted in an unheated upstairs bedroom. In the summer of 1946, Pollock moved the barn, originally designed for the storage of fishing equipment, from behind the house to the north side of the property and began to use it as his studio. Despite the fact that the barn had no artificial light or heating system, a 1987 renovation revealed that it was there that Pollock painted his best-known drip paintings.
In her will, Krasner dictated that the house should serve as “a public museum and library.” The buildings demonstrate the setting in which Krasner and Pollock created many of their works and provide a place for the study of modern American art. The Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center was open to the public in June 1988. The property is a National Historic Landmark, a designation given to buildings considered to be some of the most important cultural monuments in the United States.
The Donald Judd Foundation and 101 Spring Street
The Donald Judd Foundation cares for properties in the two cities in which Judd resided, New York City, New York and Marfa, Texas. 101 Spring Street, an 1870 cast-iron building and former garment factory in Lower Manhattan, was Judd’s favored living and working space for many years after he bought the building in 1968.
Upon moving in, Judd worked for some time from a roll-top desk he found inside. Eventually he moved to an antique standing desk, which can still be seen by visitors, complete with the markings of his industry. Judd was determined to preserve the angles of the building in the family living spaces. They were created in the northeast quarter of the building by inserting a series of wooden nooks into the space to create separate rooms.
Judd purchased 101 Spring Street with the intention that it would enable him to produce and display his work and the work of his peers. He filled the building with art that appealed to his senses, aesthetically and conceptually, including pieces by Marcel Duchamp, Frank Stella, and Dan Flavin. Every object in the space was carefully chosen to match Judd’s aesthetic mission, regardless of its status as work of art or practical kitchenware.
Click here to explore works of art by modern and contemporary masters, coming up this month on Invaluable.