[(1) Click on images for larger pictures. (2) Captions from The Studio (3) Thanks to the Internet Archive and the University of Toronto Library for creating the digital version that provided the source of the following images and text, which George P. Landow formatted and linked. ]

Original Sketch-Model for the Queen Memorial by Sir Thomas Brock, K.C.B., R.A..

At last we may congratulate ourselves that we have, in the centre of London town, a sculptural monument of supreme importance which British art may claim with pride. The Memorial to Queen Victoria, which, as far as it is completed, King George, in becoming state, unveiled last month, is a work which in its unity, dignity, and nobility of conception, its large simplicity and harmonious beauty of design, and its accordance with the great vital ideals of sculpture in the true structural expressiveness and the broad live modelling of natural form, is in every way worthy of its purpose as a national and imperial tribute. Moreover, it is noteworthy that, in its architectural as well as its sculptural features, and even to the designing and modelling of the beautiful bronze lamp-posts, with their naval symbolism, that surround it, this is entirely the invention and work of one man. And surely it is the biggest thing yet accomplished by an English sculptor, not unworthy of comparison with the famous monumental works of Continental masters, while possessing a distinctively British character of its own. Certainly Thomas Brock, R.A., has, by the splendid result of his nine years' labour, fully justified the wise discrimination of the Memorial Executive Committee in entrusting to him alone the entire conception and execution of this monument, a work calling not only for high artistic qualities and virile craftsmanship, but for strength of character, tenacity of purpose, and unfailing energy and resource. Equally happy has proved the selection of Sir Aston Webb to provide a suitable setting for Brock's monument in the reconstruction and architectural adorning of the Mall, as part of the great Memorial scheme; for no two artists could have worked together to more harmonious result.

General View of the Memorial from the South-East. Photograph Herbert Koester.

No longer can it justly be said that sculpture is "the forlorn hope of modern art." as indeed it was officially described in the catalogue of the International Exhibition of 1862, when Gibson's tinted Venus the talk of the town, when Alfred Stevens was unrepresented, and it was still undecided whether the Albert Memorial was to be an Egyptian obelisk with classical statues at its base, or else, as Gibson suggested, a Greek mausoleum, with the Prince's virtues allegorically represented in niches, or whether it should take the form in which, as the work of six leading contemporary sculptors, it lastingly reproaches mid-Victorian sculpture and the then ruling notions of artistic fitness. We have certainly travelled a long way since that period, and it is quite a lesson in artistic progress to visit the Albert Memorial and look at the lifeless sculpture, with its conventional modelling. of Macdowell, Gibson, Theed,Bell, Philip, Gibson,Armstead, and Brock's master, John Foley — certainly the most significant and the least conventional of them all — and then to go straight to the Victoria Memorial and realise the vitality and expressive beauty of Brock's own work. For happily, within the last two or three decades, our British sculptors have been strenuously freeing the practice of their art in this country from the reproach which so long and so deservedly rested upon it with depressing effect. And among those artists who have been producing sculpture in which a living beauty has been achieved, through the true sculptural interpretation of Nature, in expressive designs embodying vitality and sincerity of idea and feeling, none has worked more consistently, more whole-heartedly, or more successfully for the dignity and credit of British art than Thomas Brock. There may be — as he would be the first to suggest — some soaring to greater altitudes of idealism than he, some who strive more vigorously for realistic or emotional expression, some with livelier, daintier fancy and more delicate touch; but, for a great monumental work like the Victoria Memorial, the grand sculpturesque imagination is imperative, the power of conceiving in noble expressive lines, true proportions and large impressive masses, which shall not be falsified, when in position, by undue light or shade — and with simple directness of emotional significance and appeal. And it was because Brock was known to possess in so eminent a degree this power of treating his subject and material in the large expressive monumental style — as witness his superbly beautiful and touching memorial to Lord Leighton in St. Paul's — that he was chosen, without competition, among the many gifted sculptors Britain now can boast, for this most important undertaking. When he first received the commission, the magnitude of which might well have seemed a little overwhelming to so modest a man, it was the wish of the Executive Committee that Brock, who has never visited Italy, should, before commencing his design, travel abroad for a year to make himself intimately acquainted with the monumental masterpieces of other countries. However, within three weeks of Lord Esher's first intimation to him of the Committee having selected him for the work, he had completed the clay sketch — an illustration of which is given on the opposite page — and submitted it for approval. It will be seen that only in some details does this original conception differ from the tenth-size model which was exhibited at the Royal Academy, as, again, only in the modification of small details did that differ from the actual work. When once the Committee saw Brock's design there was no further suggestion that he needed to go abroad in search of ideas. Wisely — and indeed, in its consistent wisdom, sympathy, and tact, this Committee might well serve as a model for all future committees of public monuments, so that they prove not always the sculptor's bane — Brock's own ideas were accepted as adequate to the biggest task ever entrusted to a single British sculptor, and, with King Edward's approval, he was allowed ten years in which to carrv them out. Now, what were his ideas, and how has he carried them out?

In the first place he has aimed at giving to the Memorial a national and imperial as well as a royal and personal significance. So he has designed the base to symbolise those qualities of patriotism, intelligence, and industry with which the British peoples have built up the Empire and laid a secure foundation for the monarchy. From the Mall side, and from the Palace side, broad flights of granite steps lead up to a circular podium, or raised platform, of the finest Aberdeen granite, 104 feet in diameter, in the centre of which stands the great marble pedestal which sustains the chief sculptural features of the monument. Water is an important element in this basic part of the scheme, for, as suggesting Britain's sea-power, from bronze sculptured fountains, set in marble retaining-walls, which curve gracefully round the podium, on either side, between the approaches, cascades fall continuously into great marble basins. On the walls themselves, some 210 feet of marble, sea-waves, in which Tritons and Nereids, with dolphins and seahorses, disport with joyous rhythmic motion, are carved in relief, with careful and vivacious modelling and decorative effect. Over the curved tops of the handsome fountain-arches are to be placed, when completed, two colossal bronze groups. The one, symbolising Naval and Military Power, comprises a reclining nude female figure with an emblematic ship in her arms and a sea shell for helmet on her head, in line with a male figure handling a small sword and wearing an ancient helmet. The other group, Science and Art, is composed also of nude ideal figures in recumbent positions, the female with a palette and brush, the male with a pair of compasses. Sir Thomas is still at work on these groups, as he is on the four bronzes, 11 feet 6 inches high, which are to stand on pedestals at either end of the retaining walls, ami flanking the steps. There are two ideal figures, semi-draped, supported by lions British, of course: Peace, a splendidly proportioned female, carrying an olive-branch and pressing forward with a radiant look upon her face: and Progress, a nobly formed youth, laurel-crowned, and bearing a torch in his left hand as he advances with buoyant step. These are to face the Mall, while, on the pedestals fronting the Palace, are to be two figures more realistically treated, but also supported by British lions, representing Agriculture, a healthy young countrywoman with a sickle and a sheaf of corn, and Manufacture, a brawny smith standing hammer in hand beside the lion. This figure, by the way, it is interesting to note, was modelled from Colorossi, the same model who sat to Brock for the group Hercules strangling Antæus, with which he won his gold medal as a Royal Academy student in 1869. All these colossal figures — which I have been privileged to see in the making, and the clay sketch-models of which are here reproduced — are structurally fine, naturally modelled, and beautifully alive; while the sculptor is taking pains, by close observation in the lion-house at the "Zoo," to make the lions something much more than conventionally British. When the six bronzes are finished and in place, then his complete design may he judged as a whole; at present it lacks the balancing effect of these groups.

The central feature of the Memorial, the topmost point of which is 82 from the ground, is must impressively beautiful, with a beauty of high and tender feeling, which belongs essentially to the personal subject of the monument. Against a decoratively carved niche in the massive white marble pedestal, designed with a noble simplicity of line, curve, and mass, and mouldings of distinctively sculpturesque beauty, sits enthroned in her crown and robes of state, orb and sceptre in hand, a colossal majestic figure of Queen Victoria, wrought to a scale of 18 feet 6 inches. Gracious, queenly, and womanly of aspect, she faces the Mall, looking indeed towards the crowded heart of London. Below at each angle, supporting the base on which her throne rests, are seen the prows of ships formed like ancient Roman galleys, adorned with festoons of laurel and oak, which seem almost to be coming out of the marble mass. The other three sides of the pedestal the sculptor has devoted to symbolising the personal qualities of the Queen. Her love of truth is expressed in a very beautiful group on her right. A glad-winged figure of Truth, holding up a mirror to Nature, stands between a child bearing a palm-branch and an exquisitely expressive figure of a seated woman searching in a scroll for the Truth. On the other side, the noble group of Justice renders another tribute to the Queen's character; but this is no stern conventional personification of Justice. Here she is represented as an energetic, kindly angel, who, though she carries a sword in her left hand, extends her right to help and protect the weak and oppressed in the pathetic form of a nude suffering girl, while the scales are carried by a child. On the opposite side to the Queen, and facing the Palace, against an ornamentally carved niche similar to that which forms the back of Victoria's throne, is perhaps the most beautiful and expressive group of all. This is Motherhood, and in it the sculptor has intended to suggest the Queen's maternal love for her people. Exquisitely and naturally he has done this, without the slightest straining after sentiment. Here is just the typical mother, with her small children nestling to her, beautiful in her loving protective tenderness, sad of face with the sense of responsibility, yet resolute to bear it, and even rejoice in it, for the beloved ones. Surely here is a group touchingly beautiful, and vitally artistic, enough to make by itself a sculptor's reputation. Above this is more ornamental carving till we come to the main cornice of the pedestal, adorned on two sides by eagles, signifying Dominion. On the super-base above are two ideal female figures of gilded bronze: Courage, holding a club and gazing fearlessly outwards, and Constancy, with a mariner's compass. Between these is a bronze orb on which stands, firm-footed, a winged figure of Victory, with right arm uplifted pointing upwards, and a palm-branch in her other hand. This finely designed and splendidly modelled figure in gilded bronze is intended to be emblematic of the consummation of Victoria's long and glorious reign; but artistically it is of special interest, in that it is not the usual ballet-dancing Victory a-tiptoe for a pirouette, but one that has come, after a prolonged flight, to stay. It crowns appropriately the work of a master.           M. C. S.

Bibliography

Salaman, Malcolm C. “Sir Thomas Brock's Queen Victoria Memorial.” The Studio 53 (June 1911) 29-40. Internet Archive digitized from a copy in the University of Toronto Library.


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Last modified 25 December 2010