argaret M. Giles, an accomplished and prolific painter, sculptor, and medallist seems to be all things to all reference works. Consulting Grant M. Waters's Dictionary of British Artists Working 1900-1950, one learns that she was a "west country artist," who flourished in the 1940s, exhibited at the Royal Academy and Royal West of England Academy. Opening Forrer's Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, which appeared in 1904, produces the information that she was a "contemporary sculptor and medallist; member of the Society of Medallists, at whose exhibition in 1897 she had a seal and impression for a Submarine Cable Co" (II, 267).
According to Chris Petteys's Dictionary of Women Artists, Giles was an English sculptor of "medallions, relief portraits and busts, genre statuettes, large groups in marble, and decorative works for houses" (241) who also painted portraits and figures. Between 1884 and 1912 she exhibited frequently at the Glasgow Institute, the Ridley Art Club, the Royal Scottish Academy, and the Royal Academy. Her last work at the Royal Academy appeared after a thirty-three year absence in 1945.
According to Who Was Who, she was born in 1868, the second daughter of Richard W. and Frances E. Giles, and was educated at Kensington High School and at Brussels and Heidelberg. She studied eight years at the National Academy of Art Training School (now the Royal College of Art, South Kensington), chiefly under Edward Lanteri, and she also "visited galleries at Paris, Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome, Athens, Lahore, and Calcutta" (602). A member of the Royal West of England Academy, she also belonged to the Society of Mural Decorators and Painters in Tempera and, as we have seen, to the Society of Medallists as well. Beattie mentions that she exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, and she may have belonged to that organization or closely associated with it as some point in her career (Beattie, 245). She married Bernard M. Jenkin in 1898, at which point her address changed from 60 Nevern Square to 59 1/2 Camden Street, Camden Hill, and in 1911 to 59 Camden Street, Kensington. Sometime after 1912 she moved to 25b Durdham Park, Bristol. Giles died on 31 March 1949 at the age of eighty-one.
Giles was a young women sculptor who won prizes and recognition during her student years. The Studio reported, for example, that she won a gold medal for an unnamed relief at the 1893 "Exhibition of students's work at South Kensington." This same periodical's review of the 1893 Arts and Crafts Exhibition pointed out as "especially worthy of notice . . . a combined lamp and finger-post, by Margaret Giles, which would be a welcome relief from such objects as the groups opposite the Criterion, or defacing the centres of most of our cross-roads" (10). In an 1896 notice of "the South Kensington students' show, The Studio mentions "among notable exhibits . . . a powerfully decorative panel of the Destruction of Pharoah's Host" apparently by Giles.
Between 1894, when she exhibited three portrait medallions, and 1912, the last year she is listed until 1945, she showed twenty-six works at the Royal Academy exhibition. Of the works exhibited at the Royal Academy, eleven were portrait medallions and two others medals, one described as a "Medal for hospital nurses" (RA 1895) and a second a "Medal for the Royal Horticultural Society, etc." (RA 1898). She exhibited four reliefs in a range of materials and on a range of subjects, the first a subject from the Odyssey — Ulysses and Eurclea in lead and the second a Virgin and Child in an unspecificied material (both RA 1895). In 1897, Giles exhibited an alabaster relief, "They see the work of their own hearts," whose title is a Shelleyan text, and the following year a portrait relief in an unidentified material of Miss Clara Paul.
This work in relief seems to have been part of a broad interest in sculpture as applied decoration, for Giles created a terracotta frieze for the facade of a now demolished house in London (Beattie, 245). Who Was Who mentions that she "modelled frieze and and spandrils for terracotta and designed finals for stone, and other architectural decoration." Her Labourers in the Vineyard, a work of 1911 in flat relief that anticipates architectural bas reliefs of the 1930s and '40s, illustrates the familiar scriptural passage that provided the occasion for Ruskin's Unto This Last and may have been intended to convey Ruskinian associations about the nobility of labor and the need for social justice — something quite likely for an artist who exibited at the Arts and Crafts Guild. Of the works of hers that I have seen, this one appears most likely to have been designed as an architectural commission. The frieze's calm static arrangement figures, which so differs in essential approach from the passion and movement of Hero , shows the artist's sensitivity to the different qualities required by different formats.
In addition to her medallions and reliefs, Giles exhibited at least eight works of freestanding sculpture (the medium of the last of the 26 works, a portrait, Dorothy, daughter of John Martineau Fletcher, Esq., is unspecified in the Royal Academy catalogue). Hero was exhibited at the 1896 Royal Academy, the year after Leighton awarded her the prize, and in 1904 she was represented by another statuette, Pilgrim with Scrip, again in an unspecified material. Her three scultural groups shows the same range of subject: She exhibited "He shall give his angels charge over thee" at the 1898 Royal Academy, and two years later she was represented by the marble In Memoriam, which employed the identical text as an epigraph. Her third group, which she exhibited in 1901, appears a more purely religious (rather than a memorial with religous overtones): "After nineteen hundred years, and they still crucify". In 1905 she exhibited a group, The Son of Consolation and a bust, Mrs. Sloane. Forty years later Giles reappears at the Royal Academy annual exhibition with The Tortoise Boy, a bronze statuette group.
Like most Victorian sculptors, she seems to have devoted a large part of her attention to portrait and memorial work, and since four of her known portrait medallions, two of which were not exhibited at the Royal Academy, are of scientists — Prof. Ayrton, F. R. S.. and Dr. W. H. Tilden, F. R. S. (both Royal Academy 1897) Joseph Lister, Baron Lister (1898) and William Thomson, Baron Kelvin (nd, both National Portrait Gallery) — she may have had scientific connections (see Yung and Pettman, 348, 316). Who Was Who also points out that she created medals for the Society of Chemical Industry and for the Instutition of Electrical Engineers as well as for the University of Rangoon.
Hero and Ulysses and Euryclea represent her two Academy subjects taken from the classics — the first ultimately from Museus and the second from Homer — though Hero may derive more directly from Marlowe's "Hero and Leander." The 1904 Pilgrim with Scrip, which appears to have been a medieval subject, may, however, also have illustrated a Rossettian theme, such as that exemplified by his poem "Staff and Scrip" or W. Holman Hunt's The Pilgrim's Return.
Even such a brief survey of her work suggests its scope and variety. Listing her titles alone provides some small indication of her iconographical and iconological range but cannot do much more than that. Surveying the reproductions of her sculptural work available in contemporary and modern publications, however, furnishes additional information about her range as an artist. The available photographs of her work reveal, for example, that Giles worked in different styles during the relatively brief period for which reliable pictorial information about her sculpture exists. These photographs also suggest that she varied styles according to the media in which she created a work and the site or use for which she intended it.
The Labourers in the Vineyard, the bas relief of 1912, and Immortality, a bas-relief plaque of three years earlier, both clearly seem intended as architectural decoration, and they share elements of a linear style. The Labourers in the Vineyard is by far the most flat of her works, which is one of the reasons it so resembles art deco facades of the 1920s and '30s, but the deeper carving and formalized drapery and feathers of Immortality produce a very different effect. Neither of these two bas-reliefs have a great deal stylistically in common with Hero or her other free-standing sculpture, which also vary a great deal among from one to another.
Because I have encountered only single views of each piece, I have been unable to determine if all of her free-standing work, like Hero, composes well from all sides and viewing angles. One can, however, determine certain obvious similarities among these works. All of them, for example, make their bases a significant part of the composition, and all emphasize emotion. Other similarities pertain only to two or three works. Thus, despite its having a far more tranquil mood than does Hero, "He Shalt Give His Angels Charge over Thee," which might have been intended as funerary sculpture, shares some of its approach to creating space with a movemented female form. One can also point out that Giles treats the nude or partially nude form in three works — Hero, The Son of Consolation, and "After Nineteenth Hundred Years, and Still They Crucify".
- Margaret M. Giles's Hero and the Sublime Female Nude: Introduction
- Giles's Hero in the Context of Contemporary Women Sculptors
Last modified 4 January 2005