Apollo and Daphne
Francis Derwent Wood
Signed Derwent Wood RA
Bronze, with a brown patination
Height: 28" (71 cm)
Conceived circa 1911, and cast between 1920 and 1926
Francis Derwent Wood was born in Cumberland in 1871 and after a brief period studying in Karlsruhe, Germany, returned to England in 1889. He continued his studies in London under Edouard Lanteri at the Royal College of Art whilst also developing his modelling skills at ceramists Maw & Co, and later Coalbrookdale Iron Co.
Following his studies, Wood worked under the sculptors Alphonse Legros and Sir Thomas Brock and in 1895 he achieved the RA’s Gold medal with his bronze group Daedalus and Icarus, which is now exhibited at the Bristol Art Museum and Gallery. Wood would go on to become a founding member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors and a leading figure in the English New Sculpture Movement of the late 19th and early 20th Century.
In 1914, at the onset of World War I, Wood was already 41 and too old to enlist. Instead, the sculptor began volunteering at hospitals that specialised in treating wounded soldiers, developing a new technique for sculpting portrait masks for those soldiers who had facial wounds. These masks were cast in copper and hand finished in enamel flesh toned paint by Wood to give an accurate likeness of the wounded soldier.
Following the war, Wood was commissioned to design the Machine Gun Corps Memorial, which was erected in 1925 and currently stands at Hyde Park Corner, London. The monument, arguably his most famous work, depicts the nude figure of David flanked by Vickers gun encased in bronze and laurel-wreathed.
Machine Gun Corps Memorial, Bronze and Marble, Hyde Park Corner, London
Other monuments by the artist include the Memorial to Major General Sir John Eardley Wilmot Inglis at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Status of Atalanta at the Chelsea Embankment and Britannia Persian Scarf Dancer at Finsbury Circus. His work can also be seen at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, where four of his sculptures adorn the outer architecture. Wood’s work also resides in all major British public collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Tate Britain, The Royal Academy of Arts and the Fitzwilliam Museum.
The present model is extremely rare; this being the only bronze cast known of it. The Royal Academy holds photographs of a plater version, dated c. 1911. The location of the plaster model is also currently unknown. We can date this specific bronze between 1920 and the artist’s death, as it is marked with the inscription ‘RA’ after the artist’s name, Derwent Wood being elected to the Royal Academy in 1920.
Apollo and Daphne, c.1911, photograph, collection of the Royal Academy of Arts, London
The theme is inspired by the story from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, which recounts how Apollo, having been shot by Eros’s arrow, falls madly in love with the river nymph Daphne. When Daphne rejects Apollo’s advances, he chases her through the woods, driven by lust. Just as she is about to be caught, Daphne calls out to her father, the river god, who turns her into a laurel tree. At this point of the myth, Apollo declares that if she would never be his wife, she would at least be his tree. It is for this reason that he imbued the tree with eternal youth and adopted the crown of laurel leaves, which subsequently became the symbol of Olympic victories and Roman emperors as well as of poetical prowess in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe.
The current work depicts the moment before Daphne is turned into the tree, as laurel leaves, and the trunk of a tree merge into her legs and body.
Daphne and Apollo is a subject that was approached throughout art history, perhaps the most famous example being Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Apollo and Daphne, 1625, Marble. Commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese
Nonetheless, the concept of a double figure is relatively unusual in late 19th century sculpture, and it is certainly so for Derwent-Wood. Interestingly, the female figure was first used in the much earlier work by Wood’s, Motherhood, also known as Standing Nude and Three Putti conceived in the late 1890’s. The repetition of imagery in New School sculpture is an aspect often found in other artist’s work – especially Alfred Gilbert’s.
Apollo and Daphne compared to Motherhood, circa 1900, bronze
This specific work was gifted by Wood’s widow to the Art Historian and Critic Paul George Konody. Kodody was one of the principal writers on Modern Art in the interwar period.