Sir William Hamo Thornycroft
Signed Hamo Thornycroft 1881 and signed again in ink on the interior of the base Hamo Thornycroft 1889
Bronze with dark green patina
Height: 31" (79 cm)
Conceived 1881 and cast in 1889
‘Since, rallying, from our wall we forced the foe,
Still aimed at Hector 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’
Homer, Iliad (Pope’s translation), Book VIII, 359–364
Thornycroft’s concept for Teucer dates to 1880, when the artist started working on a number of small sculptures ‘illustrative of English Games’, beginning with An Athlete Putting the Stone. The series was never completed, but the present work combines such sporting imagery with the classical mythology of ancient Greece, dear to the artist.
According to Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, which recounts the final year of the Trojan War, Teucer was a formidable Greek archer who entered Troy in the Trojan Horse. Once inside Troy, Teucer tried in vain to kill the Trojan prince Hector, who was protected by the god Apollo. The passage above was printed in the Royal Academy Catalogue accompanying the exhibition of the work.
Thornycroft depicts the archer having just released his last arrow, capturing a moment of intense concentration as he watches it fly towards its target. The tension of the figure’s arm and tautness of the bow is clearly evocative of Leighton’s earlier Athlete Struggling with a Python (1877). Yet, Thornycroft’s use of the right-angled form is revolutionary as it does not find any precedent in either Classical or European sculpture nor does such a composition disrupt the model’s perfect balance.
The celebrated artist George Frederic Watts apparently contributed to the development of the Teucer’s composition. According to Thornycroft’s diary, Watts visited his studio and greatly admired the piece, however noting how the ‘thighs and legs are a little short’ and that he should ‘enforce and exaggerate all that will give dignity, elevation. Legs to stride, arms to reach, hands to grasp, neck to raise the head. Keep your masses large and serrati (i.e. compact)—a continuation as much as possible of the ribs. Spread the toes more’. A note made by Thornycroft against this entry reads ‘thighs and legs now lengthened’, testifying to the artist’s receptiveness to these suggestions.
The life-size plaster for Teucer was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881; this model is said to have been destroyed when the artist’s studio was vacated at his death. The bronze version was exhibited a year later and subsequently purchased for the TATE by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest; this also featured at the Venice Biennale in 1905. Two further monumental casts were produced by the artist; one was acquired by the American collector George A. Armour in 1891 for the Art Institute of Chicago. The second cast was purchased in 1911 by Carl Jacobsen and is now part of the collection of the Carslberg Glyptotek, in Copenhagen.
In light of the model’s success, Thornycroft cast the work in three variations during his lifetime: 79cm, 55cm and 33cm high. The present model is the largest of such these works made for the domestic collector.
Unlike many other sculptors working around the same time, Thornycroft was personally involved in the casting process of his bronzes. In the present bronze, this is not only testified by its excellent quality, but also by the signature and dating in ink which appears at the bottom of the piece, signaling that the artist personally handled the sculpture and supervised its casting.