Signed E. Onslow Ford
Bronze with dark and light brown patina
Height: 19 7/16'' (49.4 cm)
Conceived in 1886 and cast circa 1893
Ford produced a series of allegorical female nudes during the 1880s, which cemented his place at the forefront of the New Sculpture movement. The earliest of these nudes, Folly (1886), was purchased by the TATE Gallery, London, and made ‘the fortunes of its creator’ (Dixon, Magazine of Art, 1892, p.328). Another large, 88cm versions of the model is currently in the National Gallery of Scotland (Edinburgh).
In 1886, Folly was exhibited at the Royal Academy together with Leighton’s Needless Alarms; Gilbert’s An Offering to Hymen was also on display at the nearby Grosvenor Gallery. The three models typified an interest by the ‘New’ sculptors in the depiction of beauty and adolescence, which influenced the later generation of British artists.
According to the art historian Benedict Read, the model is ‘sometimes claimed as the first work cast by the revived lost-wax method’ in England (Victorian Sculpture, p.321). While this statement cannot be verified, it is certainly indicative of the ground-breaking nature of Ford’s use of such a technique at the time.
Modelling the work, Ford pressed strands of animal hair into the wax model to effectively imitate the texture of hair so as to achieve a hyper-realistic effect. The sculpture’s excessive lifelikeness was brought up as a criticism to the artist’s work. Famously, such criticism was also levelled at the French master Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) in 1877, during the first ever public exhibition of his Age of Bronze.
Devoid of any contextual narrative, Folly is a compelling expression of an abstract idea in a realist sculptural style. Although the work functions as an allegory, this is strictly evocative, and neither moralising nor instructive. In this light, the piece derives much inspiration from and fits perfectly within the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic, popular at the time in England.
As well as the present model, Ford also produced a truncated version of Folly, removing the figure’s arms, head and lower legs. While the work echoes the fragmented models of antiquity, its sensuous form and softly-modelled contours radically differentiate it from the stiff neo-classical models often produced by British sculptors in the mid-19th century.