Part 7 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]

The range of references to be found in Thornycroft's Mower should perhaps alert us to another range of contexts for the New Sculpture than standard accounts allow. The close association between the movement and what was going on in sculpture in France has been rightly emphasized. The presence in England in varying teaching capacities of Dalou, Legros and Lanteri was crucial, as was the exhibition in London of the work of Carpeaux, Carrier-Belleuse and Dalou from the first half of the 1870s onwards: Gosse claims Carpeaux's, work was most copiously and favourably seen (Gosse, 139-40). the opening exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 included sculpture by Dubois and Delaplanche; later artists included Etex and Fremiet. Rodin exhibited in England between 1882 and 1884 and his work was clearly acceptable at this point to some artists. Bates was in contact with him while in Paris between 1883 and 1885, ditto Goscombe John around 1890-91. He also clearly appealed to a minority avant-garde such as W.E. Henley, art critic and editor of the Magazine of Art and for that matter to Leighton, but the majority were less favourable. The Times called St. John the Baptist "weird" in 1883, while Gosse, reviewing the 1882 Paris Salon, recognized Rodin's "talent" but saw his manner of broken lines and exaggerated forms as a danger (Fortnightly Review). In 1886 the Academy's Hanging Committee refused to accept a work by Rodin and it was only somewhat later that artists such as Ricketts and Tweed began more openly to reveal his influence.

Leighton's Athlete Wrestling a Python. Click upon photograph for a larger image and additional information.

Many more sculptors were aware of the broader church of French sculpture of the 1870s. Gosse saw Leighton's Athlete of 1877 as reflecting the artist's knowledge of the 1876 Salon — he had been encouraged to proceed from his first small sketch model to a work on a more heroic scale by none other than Dalou; Gilbert went to Paris in 1876, and Gosse saw connections between his Kiss of Victory and Mercie's Gloria Victis of 1874 and between Perseus Arming and Mercie's David Vainqueur of 1872 (Art Journal, 202); both Mercies were on show at the Paris International Exhibition of 1878. Stirling Lee was in Paris from 1880; Gosse saw his Dawn of Womanhood (RA 1883) as comparable to Suchetet's Byblis Changée en Source shown at the Paris Salon of 1882. (277). Thornycroft visited this Salon and recorded in his diary entry for May 15th: "The Salon in very good this year, especially in sculpture." He went on to single out two busts by Paul Dubois, Idrac's Salambo, Namur's Cinderella, Lanson's Age de Fer and others. Drury followed Dalou back to Paris and remained there from 1881 to 1885; Mackennal was there about 1882 and again in 1892, Bates from 1883-85, Pomeroy about 1885, Gilbert Bayes in 1899, some went on to Italy: Gilbert from 1878 to 1884, Stirling Lee 1881-83, Pomeroy in 1885, Bayes from 1899. Italy was important for the experience there of a still flourishing, superlatively skilled tradition of lost-wax casting, as well as key exemplars of Renaissance bronze statuary at different scales.

It is at this point that one can perhaps begin to modify the standard accounts, to add further information that can lend a new perspective. One could for instance point out that for all the knowledge and experience picked up in France and Italy by Gilbert and Lee that led to their revival of the new bronze casting technique, their efforts were almost certainly being paralleled by a non New Sculptor, George Simonds, who had studied and worked in Germany, Brussels, and Rome between 1858 and 1876. The new "French look" in sculpture normally credited to Leighton alone in 1877 featured equally in the work of Lord Ronald Gower shown at the same time (Ward-Jackson).

There had moreover been a French sculptural presence in England for at least a generation before the new movement. Contemporary French sculpture had featured at the International Exhibitions of 1862 and 1871 -- 45 examples at the former. Following on the 1851 Great Exhibition, the re-erected Crystal Palace at Sydenham incorporated a vast museum of sculpture, including modern, mainly in the form of plaster casts: the French contingent included works by Pradier, Duret, Barre, the Debays, Dantan, Etex and Clesinger. Major private collections such as that of the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, contained works by Dumont, Feuchere and Carrier-Belleuse. The latter morever was employed for a time by Mintons in Staffordshire as modeler or original works for mass-production in ceramic where he followed in the footsteps of another French sculptor Emile Jeannest (See Ward-Jackson, "A.-E. Carrier Belleuse"). Thus French sculptural ideals, in one form or another, were readily available in England by the 1850s.

The ceramic editions should remind us of another modification to too strict an acceptance of the New Sculpture gospel. The commitment to sculpture as domestic decoration was an article of faith (if not ultimately too successful). But it was not the first time such a doctrine had been promulgated in England. From the 1840s, the Art Union movement, aided by the likes of Prince Albert and S.C. Hall, editor of the Art Journal, had actively promulgated for circulation to a potentially wider bourgeois market reduced versions in ceramic and bronze of major works of sculpture. Other caveats might be cited: architectural sculpture in the hands of a sculpture like John Thomas or an architect like Gilbert Scott could be every bit as integrated a decorative element as the work of Pomeroy or Frampton in the next generation. Naturalistic modeling had been a sine qua non of the Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner from at least 1848, and Woolner was to evolve in the later 1860s and 1870s a blend of naturalism and classicism equivalent to that which Thornycroft and Gilbert achieved in the 1880s -- though it is interesting to note that as they came to prominence with their formulation, Woolner seems to have changed course (see Read and Barnes, 24-33).

John Henry Foley had from the later 1850s developed a form of Chantreyan naturalism of modeling for his portrait statuary in marble and bronze which attracted critical acclaim and professional success — even Matthew Noble by the early 1870s had modified his previous solid but bland style to a much greater sharpness in observed and recorded detail. There had even been colour in Victorian Sculpture before Gilbert: not just the series of works in which Gibson had taken such pride in 1862, but also certain highly decorative, fully coloured portrait busts by Marochetti of the later 1850s (eg. Princess Gouramma of Coorg at Osborne). Marochetti is also credited with having experimented with aluminium as a material for sculpture, long before Gilbert's Eros of about 1893.

In certain respects Marochetti could be seen as a forerunner of the New Sculpture. With the benefit of his Italian and French background he would have had experience of the much greater range of sculptural techniques and aesthetics in Europe — and especially France -- even in mid century. This he brought to England and in works such as his Richard Coeur de Lion (outside the Houses of Parliament) he was able to demonstrate a degree of skill, not to say wizardry, in modeling translated into bronze that is the equal of Gilbert's a generation later. But the native sculptors could not emulate, nor understand, let alone admire, this in Marochetti, and the critics passed it off as flashy and effectist; much the same was the experience of Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, Marochetti's successor as a foreign sculptor resident and practising in England, offering his audience a range of alien artistic skills. by Boehm's death, though, in 1890 the climate of opinion was changing and under the full impact of the differing talents of Thornycroft, Gilbert, Lee, Ford and others -- a dazzling array of genius -- the values of the New Sculpture had triumphed.

From left to right: (a) Gilberts's The Enchanted Chair Three works by Mackennal: (b) Circe, (c) Salome, and (d) The Dancer. (e) Lucchesi's The Myrtle's Altar [Click on images for larger pictures.]

There is one last aspect of the movement that needs a further formulation. The roles of Leighton and Watts as painter-sculptors offering some formal and conceptual inspiration has already been suggested and forms part of the ideological canon of the New Sculpture. Alfred Stevens also, painter-cum architect-cum decorator-cum sculptor-cum designer of industrial art objects was both a formal and ideal inspiration. But when we see the slumped women of Gilbert and Lee (eg. Gilbert's The Enchanted Chair), when we see the highly coloured St. Georges of Gilbert and Bayes, when we see the impassioned femmes fatales of Mackennal or Lucchesi, the studies of moody poetic heads by Gilbert and Ford, we do not need necessarily to look only to Europe for inspiration or analogies. I have already tried to tie in Thornycroft's classical naturalism with parallels in British painting, and we can do the same in the instances I have mentioned.

From left to right: (a) Leighton's Flaming June and (b) Summer Moon, and Moore's (c) The Dreamers.

Slumped, slumbering women were a hallmark of Albert Moore's and Leighton's paintings from the late 1860s; the armoured figures are three-dimensional Burne-Jonesses, the whole mood of reverie, poetry and symbolism had been launched in painting in this country by Leighton and Rossetti in 1859 (See Read, 59; Christian).

It is too simplistic not to say misleading for some today to try to divide and compartmentalize the arts in Victorian England. The artists could not and would not do so. The New Sculpture movement tied in as much with its contemporary British painting as any other inspiration. The identifying motto in competitions of one of the movement's inspirational forefunners was one we should heed, that of Alfred Stevens — "I know of but one art."


Christian, John. Burne-Jones and Sculpture" in Benedict Read and J. Barnes (Eds) Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture. London: 1991.

Gosse, Edmund. Art Journal (1894).

Gosse, Edmund. Fortnightly Review 31(1882): 735-746.

Read, Benedict. ""Sailing to byzantium" in J. Christian (ed.) The Last Romantics. London: 1989.

Read, Benedict, and J. Barnes (eds.). Pre Raphaelite Sculpture. London: 1991.

Thornycroft, William Hamo. Diaries. coll. Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, Leeds.

Ward-Jackson, Phili"Lord Ronald Gower, Gustave Doré and the Genesis of the Shakespeare Memonal at Strafford-on-Avon." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 50 (1987): 160-170.

____. "A.-E. Carrier Belleuse, J.-J. Feuchere and the Sutherlands." Burlington Magazine (March 1985): 147-153

Created 2 January 2005

Last modified 21 February 2020