Sir Alfred Gilbert
Bronze with brown and light-brown patina
Height: 7” (17.8 cm)
Conceived circa 1887 and cast at a later date
Private collection, Uk
“I was born ambitious . . . I cannot remember one moment of my life from my earliest childhood, when some sort of aspiration did not inspire me.” - A.Gilbert, Confessions, 1907
Sir Alfred Gilbert was one of the most original and ambitious sculptors of the Victorian era and a key figure of the New Sculpture movement. Born in London in 1854, he was the eldest son of professional musicians, Charlotte Cole and Alfred Gilbert Sr. He was admitted into the Royal Academy Schools in 1873 and, in 1875, moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts under the tutelage of sculptor, Pierre-Jules Cavelier.
Gilbert’s move abroad was fundamental in developing his artistic language. He travelled and worked in Italy, settling in Rome in 1878, where the Italian Renaissance had a lasting influence on his craft.
Gilbert's first publicly exhibited bronzes at the Royal Academy and Grosvenor Gallery were sent to London from Rome, causing great sensation among the British public. These included Perseus Arming (1882) and Icarus (1884), which cemented the young sculptor's reputation and contributed to the development of New Sculpture aesthetics.
Returning to London in 1885, at Frederic Leighton’s request, Gilbert was commissioned to design the Fawcett Memorial for Westminster Abbey. This was to be the first of many Royal commissions, including the design of the Queen Victoria Winchester jubilee memorial, exhibited in 1887 and now installed in the Great Hall at Winchester Castle.
In 1886, he began work on the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain for Piccadilly Circus in London, a year later gaining the title of Associate of the Royal Academy. The iconic monument features a giant model of Anteros (now commonly known as Eros). This was the first-ever statue cast in aluminium in England.
Sir Alfred Gilbert, Anteros (Eros), Aluminium and Bronze, c.1885-1893, Piccadilly Circus, London
Gilbert contributed greatly to the development of casting techniques in the United Kingdom. The artist re-introduced the lost-wax process, which he had learnt during his time in Rome and which became one of the distinguishing features of his sculptures. His taste for polychrome and mixed-media work also led him to experiment with alternative metal alloys to cast in bronze.
In 1887 Gilbert sculpted the Queen Victoria Jubilee Memorial, which is now in the Great Hall at Winchester Castle. He exhibited the full-sized plaster at the Royal Academy a year later. The present work is a reduction of the figure of Victory, which stands on the royal orb, held by Queen Victoria, in the monument.
Alfred Gilbert, Jubilee Memorial to Queen Victory, Bronze, 1887. The Guardian.
Unfortunately for Gilbert, the original model of Victory was broken off and stolen from the monument when it was first unveiled at Winchester Town Hall. The damage was perceived as a protest not against the Queen or Gilbert, but rather against William Ingham Whitaker, who had funded the monument and was unpopular with the public at the time. Fortunately, the figure was recovered and restored by Gilbert and the monument was eventually moved from the Town Hall to the Great Hall at Winchester castle, where it remains to this day.
The figure of Victory is influenced by the iconography of the Ancient Greek Goddess Nike, particularly Winged Victory of Samothrace, which was rediscovered in the mid-19th century and is now part of the collection of the Louvre in Paris.
Winged Victory of Samothrace, marble, 190 BCE, Louvre, Paris.
The reduction of Victory was cast in several sizes, the present being the smallest and most popular. Gilbert gave examples of the model to a number of friends, including John Singer Sargent, Seymour Lucas, Henry Irving and Mark Senior.
Other casts of Gilbert’s Victory are part of the collections of the Royal Academy of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ashmolean Museum as well as the Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the Leeds City Art Gallery.
Benedict Read, Victorian Sculpture (Yale University Press: 1982), p.341.
Richard Dormant, Alfred Gilbert (London: 1985), p.180-183, plate 39.
Richard Dormant, Alfred Gilbert: Sculptor and Goldsmith (London: 1986), 129, nr. 34.
Susan Beattie, The New Sculpture (Yale University Press: 1983), pp. 196, 207, 210.
The Fine Art Society, Gibson to Gilbert – British Sculpture 1840-1914, ex. cat (London: 1992), p. 53-55. Plate 26.
The Royal Academy of Arts, Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Art: the Handley Read Collection (London: 1972), p. 108.