Nymph Untying her Sandal
John Gibson, RA 1790-l866
Sculpture shelf on the Sackler Wing Landing, Royal Academy, London
This sculpture is also known as Nymph at the Bath, or simply Nymph. Gibson himself described it as a portrayal of "A nymph sitting, and whilst arranging her sandal, her attention is drawn off, which gives a momentary suspense to her occupation. Her form is slender and very youthful" (qtd. in "John Gibson"). Writing in the early 1860s, the influential critic Francis Turner Palgrave was not impressed, listing it among works which he considered emptily pretty (see Read 19). One of the works of which Palgrave did approve was by Thomas Woolner. Compare Gibson's Nymph to Woolner's The Lord's Prayer, for example. Does Gibson's nymph look a little vacuous, a little too "suspended" from reality beside Woolner's group? Or does she exhibit grace, poise and dignity in the midst of a simple daily task? Is such a comparison fair? Palgrave wrote forthrightly, "There is but one standard for Sculpture, — the look of the real thing" (qtd. in Read 19). Clearly, there was a change in the offing, one that would produce the New Sculpture of the later Victorian period.