Francis Derwent-Wood belongs to the second generation of New School artists, contributing to the development of the movement in the early 20th century. As a founding member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors, he seconded the nomination of numerous artists to this institution, supporting and influencing the work of younger sculptors for over 30 years.
Wood was born in Cumberland in 1871. After a brief period studying in Karlsruhe, Germany, the artist returned to England in 1889. He continued his studies in London under Édouard Lantéri at the Royal College of Art, developing his modelling skills while also working as a designer for the industrial firms Maw & Co. and Coalbrookdale.
After his studies, Wood worked under the sculptors Alphonse Legros and Sir Thomas Brock. In 1895, he achieved the RA’s Gold medal with his bronze group Daedalus and Icarus, which is now part of the Bristol Art Museum and Gallery collection. He went on to become a founding member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors in 1904.
In 1914, at the onset of World War I, Wood was already 41 and too old to enlist. Instead, the sculptor began volunteering at hospitals that specialised in treating wounded soldiers, developing a new technique for sculpting portrait masks for veterans with facial wounds. These masks were cast in copper and hand-finished in enamel and flesh-toned paint by Wood to give an accurate likeness of the wounded.
Following the war, Wood was commissioned to design the Machine Gun Corps Memorial, perhaps as a direct result of his activism. The monument was erected in 1925 and currently stands at Hyde Park Corner. This is arguably the artist’s best-known work, depicting the bronze figure of David flanked by Vickers guns circled with laurel-wreathes.
Other monuments by the artist include the Memorial to Major General Sir John Eardley Wilmot Inglis at St. Paul’s Cathedral (1896), the statue of Atalanta at the Chelsea embankment (1907) and the Persian Scarf Dancer at Finsbury Circus (1924). His work can also be seen at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, where four of his sculptures adorn the gallery’s outer architecture.
As well as shaping London’s metropolitan landscape, Wood’s sculpture resides in major British public collections, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, TATE Britain, The Royal Academy of Arts (London), the Royal Collections (Windsor) and the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge).
Wood died in 1926, one year after Hamo Thornycroft; a memorial exhibition was held for both artists at the Leicester Galleries in 1927.