• Comedy & Tragedy: 'Sic Vita' (Large Version) - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Comedy & Tragedy: 'Sic Vita' (Large Version) - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Comedy & Tragedy: 'Sic Vita' (Large Version) - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Comedy & Tragedy: 'Sic Vita' (Large Version) - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Comedy & Tragedy: 'Sic Vita' (Large Version) - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Comedy & Tragedy: 'Sic Vita' (Large Version) - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Comedy & Tragedy: 'Sic Vita' (Large Version) - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Comedy & Tragedy: 'Sic Vita' (Large Version) - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
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Comedy & Tragedy: 'Sic Vita' (Large Version)

Sir Alfred Gilbert

(British, 1854-1934)

Bronze with green, dark and light brown patination
Height: 31 1/3'' (79.7 cm)

Conceived in 1890 and cast within the artist's lifetime


‘Clarice: Shall it be comedy, then?
Abbé Dubois: Tragedy!
De La Ferté: Comedy!
Doctor Choquart: Gentlemen, let us benefit by this difference of opinion. Let us say comedy first, and tragedy afterwards.’

W.S.Gilbert, Comedy and Tragedy, first performed at the Lyceum Theatre (London) on 26th January 1884

The piece was the first ever independent bronze figure Gilbert set out to create after producing An Offering to Hymen in 1886. The artist regarded it as ‘the climax’ of his ‘cycle of stories’—the last chapter of his trilogy of self-portraits, which includes Perseus Arming (1881) and Icarus (1884).

The work is reflective of Gilbert’s mind in the early 1890s. By this point, Gilbert was a well-known sculptor with Royal patronage and a seemingly impeccable career ahead of him. Yet, in his private life he was struggling; mounting debts, problems with his patrons and a sick wife had left the artist in a state of anxiety and depression. The artist was likely further inspired to produce this sculpture after he attended the play “Comedy and Tragedy” by William Gilbert, which was staged at the Lyceum Theatre in London in the 1880s and where his friend, the American actress Mary Anderson, played the lead role.

As is often the case with Gilbert’s work, it is only through his words that one can fully grasp the symbolism of the piece. During an interview given in the 1903 Easter Art Annual, the artist remarked how the sculpture ‘represents a boy carrying a comic mask. He is stung by a bee - the symbol of love. He turns, and his face becomes tragic. The symbol is in reality fact. I was stung [...] by my love for my art, a consciousness of its incompleteness. [...] I was living a kind of double life at that time, enjoying the society of Irving and Toole and other famous and pleasant members of the Garrick Club going to the theatre at night, and with Tragedy in my private life, living my Comedy publicly, if not enjoying it'.

Combining such contrasting images in one work was not easy. To achieve this, Gilbert elaborated a complex but highly effective composition, which engages the viewer in the round. The result is a tour de force in modelling, displaying a mannerist twist that is reminiscent of Giambologna’s (1529-1608) work—an early master of the multi- viewpoint sculpture. The success of the model led the artist to cast it in two different sizes, 76cm and 34cm.

The original plaster model for the 76cm version is currently part of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. Bronzes from this and the smaller model are currently part of the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), the Scottish National Gallery (Edinburgh), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), among other collections around the world.

The piece was the first ever independent bronze figure Gilbert set out to create after producing An Offering to Hymen in 1886. The success of the model led the artist to cast it in two different sizes, 76cm and 34cm.

The original plaster model for 76cm version is currently part of the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. Bronzes from this and the smaller model are currently part of the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), the Scottish National Gallery (Edinburgh), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), among other collections around the world.

Works by Sir Alfred Gilbert

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