The following discussion of late-nineteenth-century British medallists comes from pages of Spielmann's British Sculpture and Sculptors of Today (1901).
THE art of the medallist — apart from the craft of the token-stamper, with his frosty relief against a dazzlingly bright, smooth ground, or his cold, coarse, clumsy rechauffé of pseudo-classic models of a debased period — is little understood in England. Few realise that a fine medal is not an ordinary relief medallion in miniature, but a modification of sculpture in which the planes must tell more than the lights and shadows. The medal is unappreciated and its dignity misunderstood, and its value as a record of great events practically ignored; though it is obvious that as a tribute to the dead it offers in a small and beautiful form the perpetuation of a memory in imperishable material. The French have brought to perfection this exquisite art which, as Vasari so shrewdly saw, is the link between painting and sculpture. Alike in cast medals and struck, they out-distance at the present day every other nation — especially our own, which has but two or three medallists devoting themselves to the art, and which has up to lately always had to invite the collaboration of the sculptors when any important work has to be done. Sculptors make beautiful medallions; but they can hardly be expected to turn from a colossal statue and model a tiny work of a special character with all the marvellous delicacy and perfection of technique of a Chaplain or a Roty who are engaged in nothing else.
Mr. G. W. de Saulles
The leader of our official medallists and engravers, Mr. de Saulles is a Birmingham man who studied under Mr. Edward R. Taylor for the purpose of becoming a painter. His intentions were diverted, however, and under Mr. J. Wilcox he became an engraver in steel, in the hollow, and so cut many dies for medals for private firms. In 1893 he was appointed engraver to the Mint. The full list of his works is a long one; the more recent medals are the following: "Sir G. Buchanan, F.R.S.;" "Mrs. J. H. Powell;" "Harvest;" "Mr. Horace Seymour" (placquette); "Sir G. G. Stokes, Bart." (one of his most successful works); the reverse of the bronze coinage, 1895; "Miss Langley " (plaquette); "Professor Sylvester, F.R.S.;" "Sir W. C. Roberts-Austen, K.C.B.;" the reverse of Queen Victoria's Jubilee Medal, 1897; and the war-medals — "India" (reverse); "Canada" (reverse); "Uganda;" "Sudan;" "South Africa." He has also executed the Great Seal, and the Haslar Hospital and Dublin Police Medals.
Mr. de Saulles is a master of his craft, and he is an artist as well. Like Mr. Bowcher, he has been influenced by M. Chaplain, M. Roty, and other French masters; but the pressure presumably exerted on him by our official atmosphere may possibly prevent him from losing entirely the formality and neatness which British taste demands. Left alone he certainly produces, and will go on producing, works of art finer than any official medals that have yet come from him.
Mr. Frank Bowcher
Mr. Bowcher, still a young man, is the oldest of our chief practitioners in the medal proper. A South Kensington "National Scholar" and the pupil of Mr. Onslow Ford, he has studied the French school and has produced works of real dignity and beauty. When we find our Municipal Authorities of to-day confiding to the unnamed employés of die-sinkers medals which, in the old Italian days, would have been placed with Pisanelli, Cesari, Matteo de Pasti, and Benvenuto Cellini, or when they entrust them to "medallists" weighed down by cold conventionality and the bald formality of worn-out tradition, we can hardly wonder at a poor result.
Two medals by Frank Bowcher: Left to right: (a) Science and Art Department Medal. (b) Thomas Henry Huxley, FRS (1825-1895). The original text included a black-and-white photograph of the Huxley medal instead of this one in color. [Click on these images and those below for larger pictures.]
But Mr. Bowcher has now made himself a name in the new path which he is the first Englishman of his generation to tread. His chief works are: Medal for Tewfik Pasha (dies cut at the Royal Mint), 18S6; the Cope and Nicol School of Painting medal; the Visit of the King and Queen of Denmark, for the Corporation of London; Baron Schröder (presentation gold medal); the Tower Bridge (Corporation of London); medals of Sir Hermann Weber and Dr. Bisset Hawkins (for the Royal College of Physicians); the Huxley Memorial Medal (for the Royal College of Science); Medals of Award for the Royal Colleges of Art and Science (for the Science and Art Department); Sir Joseph Hooker (for the Linnæn Society); the Royal College of Music; the Rajah Supendro Mohun Tagore's Wedding Medal for the Duke and Duchess of York; and a medal of Queen Victoria. These are all struck. The cast medals and plaques include the School Board Attendance Medal and a Colonial Medal, both with special sittings from H.M. the King; Sir John Evans (for the Numismatic Society), perhaps the most admirable and refined ot all Mr. Bowcher's work (Royal Academy, 1901); Dr. Parkes Weber, and Mr. Charles Welch.
In these there appears more of the influence of Roty, Chaplain, Dubois, Dupuis, and the other great medallists of France, than of the early Italians. But the character is Mr. Bowcher's own; it is strong, and it has introduced to England the charm of modern lettering and edge, of the new treatment and colour.
Mrs. Lilian Vereker Hamilton
Lilian V. Hamilton's Maharajah of Kapurthala.
The artists who have dabbled in medal-making are many, but few are those who have remained entirely faithful to it. Among them is Mrs. Vereker Hamilton. Influenced by her master Mr. Legros, and following the bold and apparently rugged and lumpy manner of the French medallist M. Charpentier — as opposed to the exquisitely refined modern classicism of M. Roty — she has introduced an extremely clever series full of character, including "Lord Roberts," "Viscount Gort," "Sir Donald Stewart," and the "Maharajah of Kapurthala." The last-named was purchased for the Luxembourg Museum in Paris.
Miss Elinor Hallé
Miss Hallé, also a pupil of Mr. Legros, has modelled a number of medals not dissimilar in manner, and also favoured by the Luxembourg. They include "Cardinal Manning," "Cardinal Xewman," "Sir Charles Hallé," "Sir Henry M. Stanley," and "Mr. G. F. Watts, R.A."
Sir Edward Poynter, P.R.A., Mr. Alfred Gilbert, R.A., Mr. G. J. Frampton, A.R.A.
Left to right: (a) Art Union Jubilee Medal [Queen Victoria] by Alfred Gilbert, R.A. (b) Joseph Whitworth by Sir Edward Poynter, P.R.A.. [Neither illustration appears in the original text.]
Other artists, some of the most prominent of the day, have worked in the same direction. Edward Poynter designed the Ashantee War [Medal. Mr. Alfred Gilbert's medal for the Art Union takes a high place. The fine design and superb execution of "Post eqnitem sedet atra cura" made such sensation in the Academy at the time of its exhibition that it is hardly likely to be forgotten. To Mr. G. J. Frampton, A.R.A. are to be credited, among others, the "Quincentenary [Medal for Winchester College" (1894), the Gold Medal for Glasgow University (1895), and the City Imperial Volunteer [Medal for the Corporation of London (1901). Besides these artists, Mr. Goscombe John, A.R.A., Mr. Toft, Mr. Albert Bruce-Joy, Mr. C. J. Allen, and others have produced work of a standard that seems to render the future calling in of foreign help unnecessarv and unjustifiable. At the same time, greater progress would be more rapid if foreign medallists were encouraged to exhibit here.
Spielmann, Marion Harry. British Sculpture and Sculptors of Today. London: Cassell, 1901. Internet Archive. Web. 26 December 2011.
Last modified 26 December 2011