Medallion Portrait of Samuel Woolcott Browne
Thomas Woolner (1825−1892)
60 x 50 x 7 cm (23 5/8 x 19 3/8 x 2 3/4 inches)
Signed lower right: "T. WOOLNER. SC. 1882"
Provenance: Bought as Portrait of a Gentleman from Matthiesen Gallery London, September 2013.
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You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art and the National Gallery of Slovenia and the Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway (2) and link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.
Commentary by Paul Crowther
In the list of her father’s works compiled by Amy Woolner, the sculptor is listed as having only done three marble portrait medallions of male subjects between 1882 and his death (343−45). Two of them—James Spedding and Sir Joseph Whitworth—are in well known locations. However, the third portrait of "Walcott Leigh Browne" has not been located hitherto. In Miss Woolner’s list, the portrait of Browne is assigned the date 1883, whereas the present sculpture is dated 1882. However, at the end of the list, she makes it clear that the dates provided by her are "mainly" dates when the work was first exhibited, not when they were actually made. This means that 1882 as the date of the present work’s creation is entirely consistent with the subject being Mr. Browne.
However, matters are confused by there being no references to a "Walcott Leigh Browne" in any of the standard nineteenth-century public records (censuses, electoral registers, and the like). However, a Samuel Woolcott Browne is well documented. He died in London on November 7th 1881, and was married to Thomazine Leigh Browne (1822−1908). It was presumably she who commissioned the medallion as a memorial to her husband—obviously providing photographs or other likenesses from which Woolner could create the image.1
Woolner clearly misunderstood the spelling of "Woolcott." In one sense, this is hardly surprising since, when spoken, the name "Woolcott" in upper-class English sounds very much like "Walcott." Woolner's mistaken assumption that the family surname was Leigh Browne can also be explained. The "Leigh" component was merely Thomazine's own second birth name—derived from her mother's family, and passed on again to both her own daughters. Woolner's confusion arose, because, as a formality, Mrs. Browne always used her complete birth names and married surname together in matters of business and public life.
Samuel Woolcott Browne, himself, was born at Puriton, Somerset, in 1815. His father served at the naval Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 (as, by a strange coincidence, did Thomazine's). He made his fortune as a corn dealer in Bristol founding, in partnership, the large company Spiller and Browne. He retired from the company on September 30th 1864, and spent his final years at 58 Porchester Terrace in London.2 Browne was a well-known Unitarian and man of liberal convictions. His wife and his daughters were extremely active in campaigns to improve the lot of working women in society. After his death they were also involved in the founding of College Hall—the first residential institution for women in the University of London. Browne himself was a member of the Royal Geographical Society, and, at one point in his life owned The Young Martyr, a painting by Guido Cagnacci.
The medallion of Browne is a powerful work. Woolner gradually developed a technique that combined the purity and robustness of classicism with the particularized psychological observation of "fuller Nature" (in the Pre-Raphaelite sense). The portrait of Browne is like this, with the kind of visual energy traditionally focussed on drapery, here realized through the firm but flowing contours of Browne's hair.
1. This would not have been a great challenge, as Woolner had already used photographs as a substitute for live sittings as early as 1864. See, for example, the account of his 1864 bust of Tennyson in Ormond (42).
2. Notice of the general contents of Browne’s will were published in the Bristol Mercury on Friday 13th January 1882. Amongst other instructions, the will assigns a cash sum of £1000 to Mrs. Browne. Perhaps this sum was used to commission the medallion from Woolner.
Crowther, Paul. Awakening Beauty: The Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art. Exhibition catalogue. Ljubljana: National Gallery of Slovenia; Galway: Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, 2014. No. 153.
Ormond, Leonee. "Thomas Woolner and the Image of Tennyson." In Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture: Nature and Imagination in British Sculpture 1848−1914, eds. Benedict Read and Joanna Barnes. 40-45.
Read, Benedict, and Joanna Barnes, eds. Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture: Nature and Imagination in British Sculpture 1848−1914. London: Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, 1991. [The medallion is reproduced as plate 85, A Gentleman, on p. 165.]
Woolner, Amy. Thomas Woolner RA, sculptor and poet: His life in letters written by his daughter. New York: Dutton and Co., 1917.
Created 13 January 2015