erhaps the most striking thing in the career of Mr. Derwent Wood is the unusual rapidity with which he has made for himself a place of particular prominence among our younger sculptors. Within the short space of ten years he has advanced from the position of a brilliant and successful student in the Royal Academy schools to the rank of an even more brilliant and successful producing artist, whose works are in general request and whose capacities are widely recognised. This success has been gained, moreover, not by any deliberate postponement of his first appeal for attention until he had arrived at more than usually mature years. He is now only thirty-two, so that It can be plainly seen that he must have come before the public with definite confidence in his powers at an age when most artists are still feeling their way more or less tentatively towards the proper expression of their convictions — at an age, indeed, when many men have scarcely decided what are the convictions by which they propose to be guided in their practice.
He was born at Keswick in 1872; but while he was still a young child he was taken abroad, and when he was nine years old he commenced his education at Lausanne. At the age of fifteen he went to Karlsruhe, where he remained for two years; and then he returned to England. His first practical experience as an art worker was obtained in his uncle's potteries; but he worked there for only a brief period. In 1889 he gained a National Scholarship, and began a course of study of modelling under Professor Lanteri in the Royal College of Art at South Kensington; and that he made rapid progress under the supervision of this admirable teacher is proved by the fact that only two years later he was able to take a post as assistant to Professor Legros at the Slade School. This post he held until 1893, when he became a student in the schools of the Royal Academy.
His career at the Academy was comparatively short, but it was exceptionally distinguished, and culminated in 1895 with his success in securing the gold medal and travelling scholarship for sculpture with a group, half life size, of Dirdahis and Icarus. During the period covered by his Academy studentship he was working in the day-time as an assistant to Mr. Brock, and at night in the schools, so that he was learning the practical side of his profession under the best possible guidance, and was laying an admirable foundation of knowledge upon which to build in after years. To such good use did he put the experience which he had so far accumulated, that he was able in 1897, soon after the expiration of the term of his travelling scholarship, to gain an award at the Paris Salon for a group. Charity, and so to rank himself, when barely five-and-twenty, among sculptors of established repute. By this time the preparatory stage of his professional life may fairly be said to have come to an end; he had acquired something like mastery over the details of his craft, and was well qualified to attempt independent undertakings of an important kind.
Portrait bust of Lord Overton
When he returned to London after his stay abroad, he rejoined Mr. Brock; bat not long afterwards he was offered, and accepted, an appointment at the Glasgow Art Schools. He began, too, to find that his services were in request, and that there were at his disposal many commissions for portrait busts, and for architectural sculpture. So with quite justifiable confidence in his future, he took a studio and set to work earnestly to realise his ambitions. He had no reason to be dissatisfied with the results of this venture; he was soon busy with things which gave him plenty of scope for the display of his capacities as a designer and executant, and he made more than one success in important competitions. As the outcome of one of these competitions came a commission to execute four statues for the Kelvingrove Art Gallery at Glasgow; and besides he was responsible for a series of figures for the adornment of the Central Station in that city, for others for a large building in Bothwell Street, and for busts of Lord Overtoun and his sister, which have been placed in the Bible Training Institute.
After this excellent beginning at Glasgow he quickly found opportunities of greatly extending his sphere of activity; during the past seven yeais he has, indeed, multiplied the evidences of his skill in many directions. There must be noted his statues of Queen Victoria, for Patiala, India; of Sir Titus Salt, for Saltaire; and of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, for the Baptist House in Southampton Row; his busts of Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra, for the Cavalry Club, Piccadilly; of Cecil Rhodes, for Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Kimberley; and of Sir Blundell Maple, for University College Hospital; and his delightful medallion portrait in low relief of Sir Joshua Reynolds, which forms part of the memorial recently erected in Plympton parish church to the famous painter, who was born in the schoolhouse beside the church in which he is now commemorated. Then there is, in addition, a considerable array of portrait busts, among which those of Mr. Harrison Townsend, Signor Arturo Stefirani,and Mr. Robert Brough deserve to be specially noted. And there is a long succession of statues, reliefs, and statuettes, like his Ophelia, Cupid and Psyche, Leda, St. George, and the mural monument which has for its motive, Love and Life, Sacred and Profane, in all of which can be perceived the purposeful and intelligent working out of a very consistent aesthetic intention. Undoubtedly he has in this succession of productions been guided by eminently individual preferences, and has sought for qualities of design and accomplishment which would satisfy his own particular tastes.
There is one group of works — the four niche figures for Shipley Hall, and the bronze fountain for Wixton Hall — which has certain interesting and well marked characteristics that suggest significantly his tendencies as a decorator. It is possible, of course, that these figures represent but a passing phase of his art, and that the style chosen for them is not necessarily one to which Mr. Derwent Wood proposes to adhere, but they are not on that account less deserving of attention. They reveal the closest study of French decorative sculpture at its most suave and elegant period, and they are inspired obviously by the performances of those artists who brought into their work in bronze or marble the same spirit which made fascinating the piciures of Boucher and his contemporaries. Yet in the elegance of line and the studied grace of pose and movement which characterise these personifications of Venus, Diana, Ceres, and Juno, there is more than simple imitation of the productions of the earlier French decorative school. Their suavity is not a mere convention, and is not gained by the sacrifice of those qualities of design and handling which come from correct understanding of nature. They lack no essentials of sound construction and firm modelling, and there is a due measure of modern realism in their interpretation of a traditional style. That Mr. Derwent Wood has learned much from his French predecessors is evident enough, but not less clearly can it be seen that he has the good judgment not to ignore the better principles of the art of his own time, and that his thorough acquaintance with the methods and mannerism of one particular school has not had the efTect of diminishing the independence of his effort or of narrowing the scope of his observation.
Indeed, in his other works he proves indisputably that he has a grasp of artistic essentials that will always save him from sinking thoughtlessly into imitative conventionality. His sense of character is shrewd enough and his knowledge of nature is profound enough to guide him aright in giving a convincing expression to his ideas. His busts of Mr. Harrison Townsend and Mr. Robert Brough have, with all their distinction of manner, the fullest measure of actuality; and there is in them no suggestiorm that facts have been sacrificed for the sake of satisfying the artist's preconception in matters of style. His Cecil Rhodes, too, is sufficiently uncompromising in its statement of a rugged, and in some respects inelegant, personality, in its forcible presentation of a strong type, which would have lost its meaning if its angles had been technical side of his craft grows more assured he is gaining steadily in the power to put his nobler conceptions into a credible shape. His work has lost none of its charm, none of its ease and fluency, but to these qualities has been added something which makes them more persuasive and more capable of creating the right impression upon people who are not con- tent with simple prettiness no matter how efificient it may be in its technical presentation.
One of the notable results of what may be fairly styled rounded off or its asperities smoothed away. And in his charming Portrait Bust of a lady he has not, by straining after excessive graces, missed those small but appropriate peculiarities of feature and facial expression which give to the work its value as a likeness. In everything he does there is per- ceptible just the right amount of discretion required to guide his art into its proper direction, and to prevent him from being led by his love of elegance into characterless arrangements of line. Stylist though he is, he is very far from being a slave to tradition, and he has avoided hitherto all tempta- tions to make an easy compromise with his artistic conscience.
In fact, there are many signs that he is just now making a definite step in the direction of robuster and more dramatic performance. His recent achieve- ments deal with motives which require for effective reahsation a good deal more than a faculty for com- bining harmoniously a variety of graceful details, and which imply an understanding of great seslhetic principles as well as of more or less exacting intellectual problems. He is showing clearly that his view of the mission of sculpture is becoming more extended, and that as his command over the
West, W. K. “The Work of F. Derwent Wood.” The Studio 33 (1904-05): 297-306. Internet Archive digitized from a copy in the University of Toronto Library.
Last modified 22 December 2010