James Watt (1736-1819), by William Theed (1804-1891), a copy of an earlier marble statue by Sir Francis Chantrey created for Westminster Abbey. Unveiled 1857. Bronze, on a granite pedestal. Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester. "Throughout the nineteenth century [Manchester] proclaimed its historical, industrial and political identity in sculpture in a series of statues and busts of national heroes, national heroes of local significance, and local heroes" (Read 112). Theed was responsible for a number of these, including a pair of bronze statues in this important civic space, one of John Dalton, also a copy of an earlier work by Chantrey, but since relocated; and this one memorialising the Scottish engineer / inventor who made possible the development of this industrial city by his invention of the modern steam engine. Theed may have used "one of Watt's sculpture-copying machines" to help him (Wyke 118). [Click on the images above for larger pictures.]
Art Journal was critical of this kind of "dealing in the old clothes of Art" (qtd. in Wyke 118), but it is surprising what a difference the change in material and context makes: the bronze has a warmth about it, and the busy urban context tells much about the significance of Watt's invention. Moreover, that a sculptor of Theed's calibre was required for (and accepted) two such commissions suggests that copying the work presented its own challenges.. The idea of copying Chantrey shows the respect in which Chantrey's work was held; it was also a cheaper option than commissioning an original work. The
- "James Watt and the Steam Engine" by Samuel Smiles
- The Great Inventors, Creators of the Industrial Revolution
- Early Victorian Manchester as Revolutionary City
- Bronze version by Chantrey himself (1832) in George Square, Glasgow Note: Chantrey's original marble statue for the Abbey (unveiled 1825) is now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.
Photographs, text, and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
Read, Benedict. Victorian Sculpture. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1982. Print.
Wyke, Terry, with Harry Cocks. Sculpture of Greater Manchester. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004. Print.
Last modified 2 April 2012