• Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Perseus Arming - Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
Click image to enlarge

Perseus Arming

Sir Alfred Gilbert

(British, 1854-1934)

Signed A. Gilbert and stamped 92 on the base
Bronze with dark and lighter brown patina
Height: 14 1/4" (26 cm)

Conceived in 1881 and cast at a later date .


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 1892, Gilbert started the most important of his Royal commissions: The Memorial to the Duke of Clarence, Prince Albert Victor, for St George’s Chapel in Windsor. The sculptor’s perfectionism, high studio costs and lack of business acumen led to increasing delays in the production of this and other commissions, severely crippling his monetary success. Gilbert declared bankruptcy in 1901, halting his work on the Windsor Memorial and exiling himself to Bruges for the next 25 years.

During his time in Belgium, Gilbert continued to produce and cast his most-famous statuettes, which were sought after by European and English collectors. His rift with the Royal family over the Windsor Memorial was finally resolved in 1926, allowing Gilbert to return to England and finish the work. In London, the artist also produced the Queen Alexandra Memorial (1932) on Marlborough Road – the last of his major public commissions. Gilbert incorporated the voluptuous swirling rhythms of the Art Nouveau style in this work and was knighted upon its completion in 1932. Gilbert was reinstated as a Royal Academician that same year and died two years later at the age of 80.

Commissioned in bronze by Sir Henry Doulton and first shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1882, Perseus Arming is one of Sir Alfred Gilbert’s most popular works. It was modelled in 1881 while Gilbert was living and studying in Rome and received an honourable mention in 1883 at the Salon in Paris.

Sir Alfred Gilbert, Perseus Arming, c. 1881, Bronze, Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy

It’s evident that certain elements of Perseus Arming were influenced by Gilbert’s visit to Florence in 1879, when he encountered the works of the great Renaissance sculptors, Benvenuto Cellini and Donatello. This had a marked impact on Gilbert, inspiring him to adopt the classical subjects as well as the contrapposto (counterpoise) twist associated with the Italian Renaissance.

However, even at the young age of 25, Gilbert was more interested in the adaptation of sculpture rather than replication. He remarked at the time that although he was amazed by Cellini’s masterpiece, Perseus with the Head of Medusa, the work left him “somewhat cold”, as it failed to touch his “human sympathies”.

“At the time, my whole thoughts were of my artistic equipment for the future,” he wrote in 1903. “I conceived the idea that Perseus before becoming a hero was a mere mortal, and that he had to look to his equipment.”

- Quoted in Joseph Hatton 1903

With this mindset, Gilbert inserted himself into the sculpture, using the subject as a means of self-portrait. The piece is considered an analogy for Gilbert’s own burgeoning artistic career. We see Perseus looking over his shoulder to his winged sandals, checking his tools are fit for purpose. We can surmise that just as Perseus was a mere mortal before slaying Medusa, Gilbert believed that one day he too would master his tools and achieve greatness.

Gilbert created this work in three sizes. Each version was a separate sculpture, not a mechanical reduction, which was common during this period. Gilbert adjusted the proportions of the limbs and torso to suit each model and also made some subtle changes to the details. For instance, on the large version, the head of the handle of the sword is more elaborate than the middle-size version.

Detail of the large version

Detail of the small version

It is important to remember that the New School Sculptors made works in very small numbers and often for a specific client, so each work would be overseen in its creation by the sculptor. Gilbert was notorious for his embellishments and adjustments even in his smaller works. He often changed the material or finish of part of the sculpture, such as the tributes held by his sculpture of Hymen, some of which are made in silver.

Detail of An Offering to Hymen, Sir Alfred Gilbert, c. 1884

While there may be a relatively large number of casts of the most popular, middle-size cast of Perseus, they are all slightly different in their chasing and detail. This present example is the smallest version and is exceedingly rare. The gallery has only ever seen three examples in this size and is only aware of these three being available on the market in the last 50 years. The large-size version is also a rare work, with less than 15 examples in total.

The Greek mythology of Perseus has been widely depicted among poets and artists for centuries. Perseus was a demigod, the illegitimate offspring of the god, Zeus, who seduced Perseus’ mortal mother, Danae.

The mythology of Perseus comprises numerous heroic and thrilling tales, including the slaying of Medusa. Medusa’s gaze could petrify her victims, but Perseus’ polished shield protected him from petrification, enabling him to slay the Gorgon monster. He also saved the beautiful Andromeda from a sea monster and won her hand in marriage.

Literature:

Isabel McAllister, Alfred Gilbert, A & C Black Ltd, London 1929. Perseus reference pp. 55-57 and illus. p.24

Jeremy Cooper, 19th Century Romantic Bronzes, David and Charles, London, 1975. pp. 70-75, Perseus illus. p.70

Joseph Hatton, The Life and Work of Alfred Gilbert, R.A., M.V.O., LL.D., "The Art journal" Office, Princeton University, 1903. p.10

M H Speilmann, British Sculpture and Sculptors of To-day, Casell and Co Ltd, London, Paris, NY and Melbourne, 1901., Pp.p 75-85, Perseus illus. p. 78

Michael Forrest, Art Bronzes, Schiffer Publications, Pennsylvania 1988. pp. 322

Susan Beattie, The New Sculpture, Yale University Press, London 1985, chapter 6 "The Search for a New Aesthetic", Perseus illus. plate 129

The Fine Art Society, British Sculpture 1850-1914, Exhibition 30 September-30 October London, 1968, London. pp. 24-25, plates 57-81 and cover, Perseus illus. plate 58

The Fine Art Society, Gibson to Gilbert - British Sculpture 1840-1914, Exhibition, 2nd June -– 2nd July, London, 1992., London, pp. 53-55, Perseus illus. plate 24

Works by Sir Alfred Gilbert

Download Exhibition Catalogues for Sir Alfred Gilbert

Dbd46e685a28ac27755a9d37d18cf2ac85798d2a

British New School


2013 Exhibition Catalogue

0294831b411647f25793a9c412210680f4ac4a18

Nude


2016 Exhibition Catalogue

Bb552bf66cf1e521fb8c2c3b5233b5a93718a4bd

The New Sculpture Movement


2018 Exhibition Catalogue

Browse By Artist

Robert Adams, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Adams, Robert

(British, 1917-1984)

Michael Ayrton, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Ayrton, Michael

(British, 1921-1975)

Antoine Louis Barye, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Barye, Antoine Louis

(French, 1796-1875)

Gilbert Bayes, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Bayes, Gilbert

(British, 1872-1953)

Pietro Calvi, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Calvi, Pietro

(Italian, 1833-1884)

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Carpeaux, Jean-Baptiste

(French, 1827-1875)

Jean-Baptiste Clesinger, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Clesinger, Jean-Baptiste

(French, 1814-1883)

Aimé-Jules Dalou, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Dalou, Aimé-Jules

(French, 1838-1902)

Francis Derwent Wood, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Derwent Wood, Francis

(British, 1871-1926)

Alfred Drury, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Drury, Alfred

(English, 1856-1944)

Sir Jacob Epstein, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Epstein, Sir Jacob

(British, 1880-1959)

Pierre Félix Fix-Masseau, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Fix-Masseau, Pierre Félix

(French, 1869-1937)

Elisabeth Frink, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Frink, Elisabeth

(British, 1930-1992)

Pablo Gargallo, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Gargallo, Pablo

(Spanish, 1881 - 1934)

 George Frederick Watts & Thomas Wren, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

George Frederick Watts & Thomas Wren

(British )

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Gérôme, Jean-Léon

(French, 1824-1904)

Sir Alfred Gilbert, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Gilbert, Sir Alfred

(British, 1854-1934)

Emmanuel  Hannaux, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Hannaux, Emmanuel

(French, 1855-1934)

Fritz Klimsch, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Klimsch, Fritz

(German, 1870-1960)

George A Lawson, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Lawson, George A

(British, 1832 - 1904)

Frederic Lord  Leighton, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Leighton, Frederic Lord

(English, 1830-1896)

Andrea Lucchesi, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Lucchesi, Andrea

(Italian, 1860-1924)

Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Mackennal, Sir Edgar Bertram

(Australian, 1863-1931)

Antonin Mercié, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Mercié, Antonin

(French, 1845-1916)

Ivan Mestrovic, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Mestrovic, Ivan

(Croatian, 1883-1962)

Henry Moore, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Moore, Henry

(English, 1898-1986)

Edward Onslow-Ford, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Onslow-Ford, Edward

(English, 1852-1901)

Eduardo Paolozzi, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Paolozzi, Eduardo

(British, 1924-2005)

Paul  Philippe, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Philippe, Paul

(French , 1870-1930 )

Pablo Picasso, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Picasso, Pablo

(Spanish, 1881-1973)

Attilio Piccirilli, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Piccirilli, Attilio

(American, (1866-1945))

Hiram Powers, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Powers, Hiram

(American, 1805-1873)

Jean-Jacques Pradier, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Pradier, Jean-Jacques

(Swiss, 1790-1852)

Christian Daniel Rauch, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Rauch, Christian Daniel

(German, 1777-1857)

Sir William Reid Dick, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Reid Dick, Sir William

(English, 1879-1961)

Auguste Rodin, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Rodin, Auguste

(French, 1840-1917)

 Rodin and Carrier-Belleuse, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Rodin and Carrier-Belleuse

(French, 1840-1917 and 1824-1887)

 Rodin and Claudel, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Rodin and Claudel

(French , (1840-1917) and (1864-1943))

John Skeaping, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Skeaping, John

(English , 1901-1980)

Alfred Stevens, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Stevens, Alfred

(English, 1818-1875)

Raymond Sudre, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Sudre, Raymond

(French, 1870-1962)

Sir William Hamo Thornycroft, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Thornycroft, Sir William Hamo

(English, 1850-1925)

Albert Toft, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Toft, Albert

(English, 1862-1949)

Anton Van Wouw, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Van Wouw, Anton

(South African, 1862-1945)

Arthur George Walker, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Walker, Arthur George

(British, 1861 - 1936)

Shakespeare Wood , Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Wood , Shakespeare

(British , 1827-1886))

Ossip Zadkine, Bowman Sculpture Ltd

Zadkine, Ossip

(Russian/French, 1890-1967)