Castles in the Air by William Reynolds-Stephens (1862-1949) 1903. Source of images: Left: The Studio. Right: Academy Architecture and Architectural Review. Caption and formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Internet Archive and the University of Toronto Libraries and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

According to W. K. West writing the 1903 Studio Castles in the Air serves as a paradigm of the artist-sculptor-designer's basic approach:

Constant experiment, minute testing of every conclusion, unflagging energy in the pursuit of information on details of procedure, have been from the first the means by which he has equipped himself. There has been no leaving of things to chance in the hope that at the right moment he might find the way out ot a difficulty; he has gone on the principle that only by exhaustive preparation could the possibility of failure be avoided.

If, for instance, the two examples of decorative sculpture — Love's Coronet and Castles in the Air — which he has recently produced, are analysed, the significance of his method will be readily understood. In these works he has carried further the technical principles which guided him when he conceived and executed his exquisite statuettes of Lancelot and Guinevere. There is apparent the same desire to use his design as a basis for ornamentation which would, without destroying the purity of the artistic motive, increase the decorative value of the work as a whole. There is the same ingenious perception of the possibility of uniting in one and the same object a number of materials, and of welding them all by judicious combination into perfect harmony. There is. above all, the same healthy avoidance of anything like sensational display of cleverness of handiwork. The exceptional ability which has been brought to bear upon every detail is not obtruded; the keynote of both is is a dignified simplicity attained by careful adjustment of the relation which the various parts leai to one another, and by subordination of the ornamental accessories to the general mass. Extravagance is foreign to his style, fond as he is of sumptuousness of effect. Partly by instinct, and partly by training, he feels exactly how far he can go to oblain completeness: he will not allow himself to overstep the boundary between richness and elaboration.

Three of Reynolds-Stephens' works on Arthurian themes: (a) Launcelot and the Nestling, (b) Guinevere and the Nestling, and (c) Guinevere Redeemed.[Click on images to enlarge them.]

For this reason his work never seems laboured. It is only by close and detailed examination that the prolonged care which has been devoted to the execution of such a group as the Love's Coronet can be realised. The thing seems to have grown so easily and so naturally that hardly anyone but an expert can think that it has cost the artist months of thought, and has only beer, finished after a serious struggle with the intractibilities of materials. If the skill were less, the result would very likely be more impressive to that large section of the public which measures the value of a work of art by the evidences it affords of the pains that have been taken over it. The artist who pretends to labour with a light heart does not gain the same credit in his achievement as the man who is always calling attention to the obstacles which he has to surmount before he reaches the end at which he professes to aim. But all sincere art-lovers will respect Mr. Reynolds-Stephens for his undemonstrative devotion to his principles, as much as they admire him for his endless ingenuity and his unvarying resolve to leave nothing that he undertakes unconsidered or incomplete. [299-300]

References

Academy Architecture and Architectural Review. Ed. Alexander Koch. London: Academy Architecture, 1902. No. 1815. Internet Archive copy from University of Toronto Libraries.

Beattie, Susan. The New Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.

West, W.K. “Recent Works by Mr./ W. Reynolds-Stephens.” The Studio“. 29 (June 1903), 292-302. Internet Archive Copy from the Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 8 February 2012.


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