THE appearance of the accompanying engraving, from the chef-d’oeuvre of the lamented artist whose name stands at the head of these columns, is an occasion that would seem to demand some reference to his character and career, further than the biographical memoranda with which the public is already familiar. Of this grand bronze, so recently exhibited in London, but now erected in Calcutta, nothing can be added to the admiration awarded it by the most exhaustive contemporary criticism; and as in the current notices of this Journal its merits were discussed, additional reference here appears uncalled for.


Lieutenant General Sir James Outram (1803-1863) by John Henry Foley (1818-74), R. A. Bronze. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1861. Unveiled by Lord Napier on the Queen's birthday in 1874, near the junction of Chowringhee Road and Park Street, Calcutta. Today it stands in the grounds of the Victoria Memorial. See below for modern photographs. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

To whatever sphere in the republic of Art the verdict of Time may assign the work of John Henry Foley, there can be little doubt, judging by the productions of past ages, it must ever remain foremost in the ranks of modern sculpture. Posterity rarely ratifies the reputations of the lifetime; but, when artistic fame is based on truth and nature, it is not unreasonable to assume that works so conceived and wrought will long outlive the ordeal which shatters the pretensions of the meretricious and familiar. But the grave, alas! has closed too recently over the hand that moulded the undying beauty of the ‘Youth at a Stream,’ and steeped in silent sorrow ‘The Muse Of Painting,’ to permit, as yet, an impartial analysis of the genius of their author. For the present, sorrow occupies the vantage-ground that must hereafter be yielded to criticism, the balance of which will probably increase in his favour proportionately as a knowledge Of the higher principles of Art becomes common among his judges.

Without any pretension to the sequence of biographical narration, the history of his life may be said to be the oft-told tale of genius-an early manifestation Of the artistic impulse, the youthful ambition for excellence, and the sterner dedication of life’s maturer years to its still closer pursuit. An unwearying activity for application placed him at the head of the drawing-classes of the Royal Dublin Society when but at an early age, to which same body he has bequeathed (like Thorwaldsen to Copenhagen) the original models of his works, with the proud desire Of forming a gallery of his productions in his native city, and within the walls of that institution to which he was indebted for his first Art-teachings.

But the attractions of the Art-schools of the British metropolis prompted his seeking therein the opportunities Of higher cultivation, and a wider area for the future efforts of his ambition. London became the richer” by another aspirant for fame, whose subsequent career has been but a continuous series Of successful labour. To enumerate the works that have issued from his hands since when, in 1839, he first appeared in the Royal Academy catalogue as the exhibitor of ‘The Death of Abel,’ to the recent brilliant triumph of the daring ‘Outram,’ would be but to reprint a list with which the world is familiar.

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Lieutenant General Sir James Outram (1803-1863). Th [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The Academy, naturally desirous of augmenting its strength” by such an accession of power and promise, enrolled Mr. Foley in the ranks of its Associates in the year 1849. It was not, however, until after the completion of the ‘Hardinge’ that the full honour of Academician reached him. Doubtless the appearance of this magnificent work, in 1856, hastened his elevation to a position more than secured by the exhibition of the high qualities of Art that group manifested. The reception of the ‘Hardinge’ by his brother artists will be remembered; and their requisition for its duplicate in London, was always viewed” by him as one of the highest honours of his career. But between the early simplicity of ‘The Death of Abel’ and the masterly grandeur of the ‘Hardinge,’ occurs a period of the greatest interest in his life. In the interval of these dates was the movement for the employment of English Art in the decoration of the Houses of Parliament, resulting in the competitive exhibition at Westminster Hall. Into this contest the body of English sculptors entered. Three prizes were awarded, of which the author of the ‘Ino and Bacchus’ took one. This successful issue, placing in his hands the commission for the portrait-statue of ‘Hampden,’ was the turning-point of his life. For ideal Art he, had found no demand; but, giving his attention to portraiture, entered upon a field of study in which his name soon rose to the highest ranks of the English school. The works executed since this period (1847, the date of the ‘Hampden’) form a catalogue of celebrities the public have of late seen frequently repeated. It is not, however, too much to say, that some of these early portrait-statues—for instance, the ‘Goldsmith’ and ‘Burke’-—challenge comparison with the finest productions of their class in modern European Art.

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Left: Edmund Burke. Middle: Oliver Goldsmith. Right: Field Marshal Lord Clyde. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Of his principles in Art, it may be said that, with the highest admiration for the time-honoured excellences of the antique, he was no blind devotee to their merits at the expense Of what he deemed of far higher import,—nature and character. To him, the figure of a modern statesman idealised in classic costume was an absurdity. His portrait-statues—always in the highest degree characteristic in dress as in bearing—were rendered with the closest attention to local details, as seen in his ‘Prince Consort,’ ‘Goldsmith,’ ‘Burke,’ ‘Lord Clyde,’ and others, with a sense of verisimilitude and power no mere adaptation of the high quality of a classic type could give. His ideal subjects, equally as his portraits, were removed from any imitative precedent, whether classic or medizeval, a strong national feeling prompting the recognition, in modern literature and modern aims, of subjects equally fitting for artistic treatment as the worn-out legends of heathen mythology. The few ideal works by his hand were moulded in this spirit, and exhibit in their moral influence the motif of their conception. The ‘Youth at a Stream’ is an embodiment of the yet rounded contours and graceful suppleness of coming manhood, as the ‘Ino and Bacchus’ is a vision of the beauty of female and infant form; and, though tinged with the rich mellowness of early fable, is yet far removed from the voluptuous suggestiveness of pagan story. In ‘The Mother’ may be seen the tenderness of maternal love rendered with all the purity of the highest ideal art; whilst in ‘Caractacus’ we are taken back to a period and people in whose patriotism and valour are to be found the prototype of our most strongly marked national characteristics. From the contemplation of such subjects, the spectator rises with a feeling of satisfaction that the' artist had, in them, reached those chords of sympathetic feeling and emotion, the one touch of which makes the whole world kin. And surely, such is a much more worthy dedication of Art’s humanising influences than the soulless repetition of the stereotyped forms of those fabled divinities in whose existence we have no belief, and of the faith they originated, to which our own is totally antagonistic. His single portrait-statues appear to have been conceived as the embodiment of individual character; and whether in the soldierly presence Of the noble ‘Hardinge,’ the intrepid courage of ‘Outram,’ the dignity of ‘Burke,’ the simplicity of ‘Goldsmith,’ or the impassioned energy of ‘Grattan,’ we read the illustration of one dominant idea, from which he never departed, or weakened” by the introduction of a secondary interest.

The painful elaboration of pre-Raphaelistic detail and dryness he held in contempt, whilst for the magnificent grandeur and largeness of Turner, or the feeling and sentiment of Danby, no one entertained a more pleasurable appreciation. His opinions on Art were much sought after, and his advice on works in progress, especially bearing on composition and effect, were so valued, that the little time he had for visiting was frequently occupied with such errands. But whilst thus acting as a mentor to others, he sought the opinions and views of his friends on his own works, and it is well known to the assistants in his studio to what extent he sacrificed time and labour in the modifloations and changes thus adopted, though not always with success. But his constant aim at improvement, even after he had apparently settled upon the details of a work, was such that he would transpose and rearrange parts apparently complete. Frequently, having joined him in a visit to the studios after his assistants had left for the day—our route lit by a small lamp he carried for such nocturnal inspections—have I seen him test the condition of works in hand by lighting them from all approachable parts; and, as under such an ordeal his models rarely escaped without the apparent necessity for reduction in one part, or increase in another, hasty indications of alteration were made upon them for consideration in the next day’s work. And thus, from such unsparing outlay of time and labour, the commission, originally estimated for an average cost of production, often fell short of its remunerative due. But to him money was far less precious than professional reputation, and whilst to the former he was comparatively indifferent beyond the necessities it provided, with the latter he would allow nothing to interfere. At all times the interests of Art found its staunchest champion in his uncompromising advocacy of its dignity and position. For no mere passing purpose would he swerve from the path his high integrity pointed to as that which its importance demanded, or falter in the course he had determined to pursue for the accomplishment of any object in its favour; and to those whose recollections date back to the Wellington Monument competition, and the proceedings of the Sculptors’ Institute, it is needless to refer to the position held” by him on those occasions. His views of men and things were taken from a similarly high standpoint, allowing of but slight departure from the unflinching principle regulating his own. Right or wrong, his decisions for theconduct of life were arrived at only after mature consideration; and though not deaf to conviction, he maintained a firmness of opinion forbidding the acceptance of compromise or expediency.

A hearty love of outdoor nature, ever the characteristic of a genuine Art-feeling, was in him So strong, there is reason to believe, that had he not, at an early age, adopted sculpture as his life’s pursuit, he would have worked with equal success as a landscape-painter. His appreciation of scenery was at once genuine and artistic: he loved it for its healthy influences on mind and body, and as an awakening of the latent springs of poetry and feeling; and, though in no way conversant with the manual technicalities of painting, his eye, well cultured in the study of form and composition, would detect combinations of lines and effects of contrast that to many actual workers with the brush would have passed unnoticed. His views of Art, especially as applied to pictures, pointed to a preference for the suggestive rather than the imitative.

Of personal characteristics, none were more prominent than his unpretending modesty, and genial heartiness of manner. This same unaffectedness of purpose extended throughout all his arrangements, whether artistic or social. To be a guest at his table, was to enjoy a feast where welcome took the place of ceremony, and the warmest hospitality awaited all comers; whilst, to share in an evening’s conversation” by his fireside, was to learn how keen was his appreciation of humour, and how, from the depths of a well-stored memory, he drew some of the choicest thoughts of the deepest thinkers.

Like his great compatriot Maclise, Foley dallied with the gentler muse, and moulded into words the breathings of a lover of nature. As a musician he was not unlearned—several songs” by him having of late been placed before the public, though not in his name.

Ready at all times to aid by counsel or purse the uncertain or needy who sought his aid, the time and thought he bestowed on such subjects was found at the expense of that leisure his closely-occupied daily routine demanded for the behests of health—nay, life. How constantly these demands were made upon him, the friendly confidence of many years gave me the opportunity of knowing, whilst the frequent reference to such matters in his memoranda and papers, of which, as his executor, I have necessarily full cognisance, enables me to testify to what an extent he practised that charity which letteth not the left hand know what the right hand doeth. One of the last acts of his life was to write a recommendatory letter in behalf of a needy relative of a deceased member of his own profession; he had not, however, the happiness of knowing the application was successful, for by the time such tidings reached his home he had passed away from the things of this world.

That he died in harness is too true, yet withal it was a yoke that never galled him, for his heart was in his work, and work was to him the purpose and pleasure of existence. Leisure he knew not, if by that term we understand the forgetfulness of occupation. The numerous and important commissions he held, the necessary arrangements for their progress and completion, and the constant effort for the most thorough accomplishment of even the smallest commission, though but a tablet-medallion, or a head-stone bas-relief, so thoroughly consumed his every thought, that there is little doubt his system, greatly enfeebled by a long and dangerous illness three years ago, gave way beneath the constant tension of physical and mental effort; and thus, whilst in possession of a reputation no English sculptor had before enjoyed, he sank beneath a second attack of pleuritic effusion, terminating, at the early age of fifty-six, a career, the further course of which must have added to his honours though scarcely to his fame. Rest and holiday were the prescriptions constantly offered by friends not incompetent to read the symptoms of his physical condition, and though half admitting the necessity for such an altered mode of life, he found too many obstacles in his many engagements to admit of its adoption. Duty to him bore the soldier’s meaning, and, with that before him, no compromise or alternative found acceptance.

His fatal attack of illness was sudden; on the 4th of August last he was induced to attend a wedding-party at the house of a friend. In the evening he complained of a sudden pain in his side, and soon after departed for home. It was, however, with difliculty he reached his house at Hampstead, where he was then staying. On the first interview with his physician, pleuritis was found to have established itself, and notwithstanding all the efforts of medical science in his behalf, he sank to his final rest at eleven o’clock A.M. of the 27th of the same month. His will, executed on the morning of his decease, contains provisions showing to what extent the ruling passion (Art) was strong in death. That document contains reference to his unfinished works, a bequest of his models to the Royal Dublin Society, and conveys to the Artists’ Benevolent Fund the bulk of his property on the termination of certain life-interests therein. His interment in St. Paul’s is an honour he had well earned, and now, side by side with the greatest artists of the English school, he rests among our illustrious dead. The grief his loss occasioned can be known to those only who enjoyed the confidence of his regard. Art may mourn that his genius can no longer increase her treasures, but the void left by his absence can be measured” by those only to whom his name was as a household word.


Tenniswood, G. F., F.S.A. “Memorial Sketch of the Late J. H. Foley, R. A..” Art-Journal. (1875): 22-23. Hathi Trust version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 24 March 2014.

Last modified 24 March 2014