John Tweed was born in 1869 and died in 1933, so his career fell into what the Dictionary of National Biography describes as "the generation gap between the New Sculpture and modernism." His considerable achievements thus tend to be overlooked, although his public statues are familiar sights in London and other cities.

In 1963 Tweed's daughters presented the contents of their father's studio to Reading Museum. The Tweed Archive, comprising sculptures, correspondence, drawings, photographs and other items has now been researched and documented by Nicola Capon, who has used this material to produce an interesting account of Tweed's life and work.

After describing Tweed's early years in Glasgow and London, the book documents the celebrated relationship between Tweed and Rodin. The French sculptor relied heavily on the younger man and Tweed was instrumental in turning Rodin's loan of his works to the V&A into a gift — although the outbreak of war in 1914 gave Rodin little choice.

Dr Capon rightly observes that Tweed's own career may have been "overshadowed by Rodin's reflected glory"; and she quotes a private letter from the secretary of the Clive memorial committee, warning him to avoid Rodin's style as being "too elemental and obtuse." The fear that Tweed might be over-influenced by Rodin was one of the reasons why the commission for Captain Cook in The Mall went to Thomas Brock.

Left to right: (a) Tweed's bronze relief of Rodin (c.1895). [This and the following illustrations are from our own website; click on the images for larger pictures and more details about these works.]. (b) Detail of Tweed's statue of Joseph Cowen (1829-1900) in Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne (1906). Cowen was a prominent figure in public life there.

The author gives more prominence to Captain Cook than to Robert Clive, although the latter is arguably the more important statue and was commissioned (and completed) first. Clive cuts a splendid figure with his boots and sword and has a fine site overlooking St James's Park. A marble version stands proudly in Lord Curzon's Victoria Memorial in Kolkota. Sculptors need some luck to get their careers started, and Tweed's good fortune was to be introduced at the age of 24 to Cecil Rhodes. The archetypal empire-builder was Premier of Cape Colony and Tweed was awarded a series of lucrative commissions. As Dr Capon notes, this "did not come without a price": there were bitter disputes over the copyright of a Burns statuette and a statue of Rhodes for Bulawayo. Tweed gave in over the Burns, but eventually won his point on the Bulawayo statue; but only after threatening legal action. In his dealings with Rhodes, the young Glaswegian showed a determination (and an obstinacy) that were to be a feature of his later career.

According to Tweed's daughter Lendal, her father was described as "Sculptor-in-Ordinary to South Africa." This certainly seems a more appropriate title for Tweed than the "Empire Sculptor," which can be applied to many of the "New Sculptors" — the Empire was a great source of patronage.

Left to right: (a) The equestrian statue of Wellington. (b) and Two photographs of Tweed's splendid King's Rifle Corps Memorial, Winchester (1922), standing close to the cathedral. [Click on these images to enlarge them.]

The chapter "Portraying the Empire" should perhaps be called "Portraying the Aristocracy," as it concentrates on Tweed's portrait busts of members of Edwardian society. Dr Capon notes that Lord Beauchamp is Tweed's only portrait bust which shows the subject unclothed; she suggests the reason may be that "the addition of a collar, tie and jacket would have accentuated [Beauchamp's] roundness, highlighting his stout figure." Beauchamp is said to be the inspiration for Lord Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited, and was later banished by George V for his homosexuality, so it may well be that the noble lord simply had a taste for nude statues.

In 1912 Tweed completed the equestrian figure of Wellington for St Paul's Cathedral, left unfinished by Alfred Stevens on his death in 1874. The book rather understates the commission, dismissing it as "a workman's job, not an artistic endeavour." However, Stevens' plaster model was in poor shape after thirty years' neglect. The casting of a massive bronze figure is no easy task, and it took Tweed nine years.

Tweed at 45 was too old for active service in the 1914-18 War, but tried hard to become a war artist. He finally succeeded in August 1918, when General Smuts (the South African connection once more) arranged his attachment to VI Corps in France. He was able to observe the final offensive, known as the 100 Days, when enemy resistance collapsed and British troops reached the German frontier. This relatively brief experience established Tweed's credentials as a sculptor of war memorials and these were his main source of commissions until his death in 1933.

According to Dr Capon, a "consensus among historians" believes that there was an "approved style" for war memorials, orchestrated by persons unknown for "sinister" reasons. However, the passages she quotes from Alex King and Geoff Archer do not support this conspiracy theory. Tweed's designs may not have been as innovative (or as controversial) as Jagger's, but they were what the various memorial committees wanted and Tweed won the majority of the competitions he entered.

Although most of Tweed's "ideal" statues were executed early in his career, Dr Capon leaves her discussion of these works to the end of her book, noting his "inability to produce a large and consistent body of ideal work." This lack of ideal work may have contributed to his failure to secure election as an Associate of the Royal Academy, despite three attempts. In 1912 he was nominated by four Academicians, including the sculptors Pomeroy and Derwent Wood. In 1920 he had six nominations, but none by sculptors. In 1927 he was nominated by twelve Academicians, including the sculptor Sir George Frampton and the President of the Royal Academy, Sir Frank Dicksee.

His lack of success, even with the support of the President, confirms Dr Capon's assessment that "he was unable to fit in the traditional home of British art." Somehow the rugged Scot, known for his quick temper, must have blotted his copybook with veteran Academy sculptors like Hamo Thornycroft,Thomas Brock or Goscombe John. In the long run this does not matter; as the Times obituary noted, Tweed was "one of those sculptors who, without attaining Academic rank ... occupy an equal place in the public estimation with their Academic brethren."

Nicola Capon has made good use of the Tweed Archive and her book is a useful introduction to a rather neglected sculptor. Reading Museum is to be congratulated on this timely publication, appearing as it does on the 80th anniversary of John Tweed's death.


Capon, Nicola. John Tweed: Sculpting the Empire. pb. Reading: Spire Books, 2013. 108pp. ISBN 978-1-904965-43-5. pb. £.14.95.

Tweed, Lendal. John Tweed, Sculptor; a memoir. Lovat & Dickson, 1936.

Last modified 26 April 2013