• Bust of George Frederick Watts  - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Bust of George Frederick Watts  - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Bust of George Frederick Watts  - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Bust of George Frederick Watts  - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Bust of George Frederick Watts  - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Bust of George Frederick Watts  - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Bust of George Frederick Watts  - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Bust of George Frederick Watts  - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Bust of George Frederick Watts  - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Bust of George Frederick Watts  - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
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Bust of George Frederick Watts

Sir Alfred Gilbert

(British, 1854-1934)

Signed A.Gilbert A.R.A. Sc.
Dated 1890
Bronze with green, dark and light brown patina
Height: 6 1/4” (16 cm)

Conceived 1888 and cast 1890


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

George Frederic Watts was a highly successful Victorian painter, first garnering fame with his drawing of Caracticus, which won the first prize in the competition to design murals for the new Houses of Parliament in 1843. In the following decades, Watts was first associated with the Aesthetic Movement and was greatly influenced by Dante Gabriel Rosetti. He later developed his own pictorial style, drifting away from the movement but continuing to be considered a master of the painted medium. Watts also produced some accomplished sculpture, the most important of which is Physical Energy (conceived 1882-1902) and currently occupies prominent public locations in England, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

In 1888, Watts’ wife, Mary, wrote a letter to Gilbert asking him to model a portrait of her husband. Gilbert was clearly delighted to undertake the commission as he greatly admired Watts, who at the time was an established member of the Royal Academy and an illustrious part of the ‘Holland Park Circle’ together with Frederic Leighton.

According to Mary Watts, on his first visit to her husband’s studio at Little Holland House Gilbert had said that he could not tell her ‘how great an endeavour’ he would make in executing the work. Such attitude is directly reflected in the number of sittings Gilbert required to produce the portrait. Instead of the usual five posing sessions the artist usually required, the resulting likeness was produced after 18 sittings during the summer of 1888.

In the portrait, Gilbert does not attempt to flatter his sitter. Rather, he produces a dignified depiction of his aged looks, resulting in a wise and contemplative countenance, which is framed by Watts’ infamous skull cap and beard.

Gilbert refused payment for the model and gave the first cast of the work to Watts. This was executed in the winter of 1889 and later joined TATE Britain’s collection as a gift of Mary Watts in 1904. The original plaster is in the collection of the Royal Academy, while the present model is a reduction of the original bust, produced by Gilbert for the collectors’ market.

In return for Gilbert’s generosity Watts painted a portrait of the sculptor in return. The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1896 and was listed as being in the collection of Mrs. Gilbert. The present location of the painting is unknown.

Literature

Richard Dorment, Alfred Gilbert (London: 1985), pp. 121-122,220, plate 50, p.93.

Richard Dorment, Alfred Gilbert: Sculptor and Goldsmith (London: 1986), pp.119-120, plate 25.

Jeremy Cooper, Nineteenth-Century Romantic Bronzes: French, British and American Bronzes 1830-1915 (London: 1975), pp. 73-74, plate 69.

Works by Sir Alfred Gilbert

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