Part 2 of Benedict Read's Introduction to Gibson to Gilbert: British Sculpture 1840-1914, the catalogue of the 1992 exhibition at the The Fine Art Society, London. The Fine Art Society has most generously given its permission to use information, images, and text from its catalogues in the Victorian Web. This generosity has led to the creation of hundreds and hundreds of the site's most valuable documents on painting, drawing, sculpture, furniture, textiles, ceramics, glass, metalwork, and the people who created them. The copyright on text and images from their catalogues remains, of course, with the Fine Art Society. [GPL]

Icarus by Sir Alfred Gilbert, R. A. (1854-1934), [Click upon image for a larger photograph and additional information.].

The revived lost-wax bronze casting technique of the original version of Icarus brings with it inevitably a recollection of Italian Renaissance bronzes as well as enabling the artist (if he wished) to record an intricacy of naturalistic modeling that the sand cast bronze (the main alternative technique) or marble (as in the Gibson) could not admit. Layers of personalized symbolism for the artist overlay the ostensible classical myth. And the commissioning patron of the original was not simple prosperous member of the upper or middle classes, as Gibson's had been; it was Frederic Leighton, President of the Royal Academy and one of the major forces behind the birth of the revolution that came over British sculpture in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the New Sculpture.

The primary contemporary chronicler of the movement was Edmund Gosse, who started writing about contemporary sculpture in the early 1880's. His classic account of the New Sculpture came in the Art Journal of 1894, beginning with the words: "Of all the artistic movements of our time in England, the most sharply defined and the most uniformly satisfactory is that which is identified with the reform of our national sculpture" (138). This assessment was supported by a range of other critics. A.L. Baldry wrote in 1898

Sculpture in this country has most certainly taken during the last two decades an entirely new lease of life; and the number of sculptors who can, and do, produce work of the highest class has, in the same period, increased in a most significant manner. From a condition of sickly incapacity it has been raised into splendid activity; and from being despised and disregarded as a weak thing of no importance to anybody it has grown into a great power, able to make its own terms with the many people who now desire its assistance. [3]

Marion Spielmann in 1901 began his book British Sculpture and Sculptors of To-day with "Since the year 1875 or thereabouts a radical change has come over British Sculpture — a change so revolutionary that it has given a new direction to the aims and ambitions of that artist and raised the British school to a height unhoped for, or at least wholly unexpected, thirty years ago." Yet another critic, Rudolph Dircks, was writing still in 1908 of

the flourishing and progressive state of sculpture in England at the present time . . . The adequate apprehension of all that lies within the competence of plastic art, its susceptibility as a medium for the expression of all sorts of emotions, the breadth of its psychological range has never before been so manifest in England as it is today. [193,195]

The characteristics of this revolution in British sculpture were variously described and defined by Gosse and his colleagues. In the 1894 Art Journal Gosse stated for instance that one of the movement's outstanding features was its "close and obedient following of nature" (p.139) with a resulting realism of modeling which Dircks considered had counted so much in the progress of modern sculpture in England (195).


Baldry, A. L. Studio 15 (1898): 77-78.

Dircks, Rudolph. Art Journal (1908).

Created 2 January 2005

Last modified 21 February 2020