Left: Teucer. 1881. Bronze. 94 ¾ inches (240.7 cm) high. Collection of Tate Britain, ref. NO1751. Right: Teucer. Bronze. Signed “Hamo Thornycroft” on base, 16 ¾ inches (42.5 cm) high. Private collection. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
As the title suggests, this was one of Thornycroft’s sculptures most inspired by classical sculpture. Teucer, one of the heroes from Homer`s The lliad, was the son of King Telamon of Salamis Island and his second wife Hesione, the daughter of King Laomedon of Troy. Teucer, the half-brother of of the Greek hero Ajax, was considered the best archer amongst the Greeks fighting at Troy. Despite this, Teucer missed hitting Hector eight times with his arrows, although he did slay other Trojans. Thornycroft’s sculpture captures Teucer in a tense and strained position as he shoots a last arrow and watches its course. When the full-size plaster version was shown at the Royal Academy in 1881 a quotation from Pope's translation of Homer was printed in the catalogue because the subject was unusual.
Since, rallying, from our wall we forced the foe,
Still aimed at Hector have I bent my bow;
Eight forky arrows from this hand have fled,
And eight bold heroes by their points lie dead:
But sure some god denies me to destroy
This fury of field, this dog of Troy. [VIII, 359–64]
Thornycroft had been a great admirer of the Elgin marbles since his youth and this early work of a heroic male nude is definitely Greek in style. The critic Edmund Gosse recognized this when he wrote that ”the typical Homeric bowman, entirely nude, and of heroic size. He stands scarcely relaxed from the rigid position in which he has drawn his great bow, but the arrow has actually started, and he follows its course with an attentive eye. The legs are drawn close together, and are still tense with the effort of resisting the opposite action of the arms, which are almost parallel to the ground. Nothing could be less conventional than this figure, which has something almost archaic about its serenity and rigidity” (331). Gosse also commented about Thornycroft: ”He does not, like Gibson, go straight to antiquity and slavishly copy the Greeks, but he translates into exact and modern language such ideas of beauty as are most analogous to the best Greek feeling” (329).
Thornycroft’s use of the right-angled form in this sculpture is revolutionary because there is no such precedent in either classical or European sculpture, nor does such a composition disrupt the model’s perfect balance. When this sculpture was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881 as a full-size plaster cast it achieved great success. The critic Frederick Wedmore commented: “Mr. Hamo Thornycroft’s Teucer, is the piece most talked about at the Academy – its display is contemporaneous with the young artist’s election to the Associateship. Teucer has great virtues – Academic virtues, but still precious ones – of reticence and restraint. Type and manner are all classical – the slim figure still braced for the action that has been fulfilled. The appeal of this art is to be learned. Towards popularity it hardly makes even a legitimate claim” (100).
Teucer was to become a seminal piece for the emerging New Sculpture movement. The model for this sculpture was his favourite model, the Italian Orazio Cervi, who later modelled for Thornycroft's The Mower in 1884.
Bronze maquette for Teucer. Signed and dated “HT July 1880” on base, 8 ½ inches (21.7 cm) high. Private collection.
A life-size plaster for Teucer was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881 [no. 1495] and the full-size bronze version was exhibited a year later in 1882 [no. 1665]. A bronze statuette was shown in 1889 [no. 2056]. In 1882 the large bronze version was purchased by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest for the Tate Gallery. Two further monumental bronze casts were produced by the artist. One was bought by the American collector George A. Armour in 1891 for the Art Institute of Chicago where it is displayed in the Franke Reading Room of the Library. The second cast was purchased by Carl Jacobsen in 1911 for the collection of the Carslberg Glyptotek, in Copenhagen. In view of the success of this figure, Thornycroft cast the work in bronze in a number of sizes during his lifetime. Maquettes have also appeared on the market. and were cast in bronze in an edition of twenty-five in 1884. Unlike many other sculptors working at about this same time, Thornycroft was personally involved in the casting process of his bronzes. The care and attention Thornycroft put into each individual casting made each one a unique work of art. The bronzes were frequently cast by by Herbert Singer of Frome, whom Thornycroft had first met in 1888.
- 30 ½ inch version exhibited R.A., 1889; The Fine Art Society, 1902
- 29 inch version (with essay by Robert Bowman)
Beattie, Susan. The New Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.
Gosse, Edmund. “Our Living Artists - Hamo Thornycroft A.R.A.” Magazine of Art 4 (1881): 329-32.
Wedmore, Frederick. “Rising Artists.” The Gentleman’s Magazine 251 (1881): 91-100.
Created 7 May 2021