A Warrior carrying a wounded youth from the field of battle
Sir William Hamo Thornycroft
Inscribed EXECUTED IN BRONZE BY J. A. HATFIELD. FOR THE ART-UNION OF LONDON.1878. FROM THE ORIGINAL BY HAMO. THORNYCROFT
Bronze with brown and light brown patina
Height: 27 1/2'' (70 cm)
Conceived in 1875 and cast in 1878
A Warrior Carrying a Wounded Youth from the Field of Battle was conceived by the artist in 1875 to compete for the Royal Academy’s biennial Gold Medal for the Best Work of Sculpture on a given theme. Thornycroft took part to the contest with Alfred Gilbert, eventually winning the prize. In 1894 the art critic Edmund Gosse defined such a competition as the ‘prologue’ to the English New Sculpture movement.
While the Royal Academicians set the theme for the piece, its treatment was left completely to the imagination of the young artists involved in the competition. Thornycroft’s composition was extremely indebted to his travels to France and Italy, and particularly to the sculptural norms of the Florentine Renaissance and to the ruins of Classical antiquity.
The iconography of the present piece is likely linked to the bas-relief of Trajan’s Column (Rome), which narrates the victory of the Roman emperor against the king Decebalus in the 1st Century AD.
Trajan’s Column (detail), Rome
In one of the Column’s vignettes, two soldiers are depicted carrying a wounded youth from the field of battle. The age difference between the figures is developed through the presence or lack of beard on their faces, much like in Thornycroft’s piece. In the present model, however, the artist exasperates the contrast further, modelling with painstaking attention the muscular soldier and the soft folds in the youth’s body, thus enhancing the heroism of the scene.
Plaster cast of Trajan’s Column, V&A (image courtesy of the V&A Museum)
Although four years passed between Thornycroft’s visit to Rome and the conception of the present piece, the artist could make full use of the ingenious plaster cast of the column produced by Monsieur Oudry in 1864, which was on display at the London’s South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum) since 1873.
The present bronze was cast for the Art Union of London, which was established in 1837 and had over 20,000 members in 1876. By subscribing to the Union, its members had the chance to win a prize at a yearly draw. After seeing Thornycroft’s model, the Council of the Union ‘thought the statuette so good [...] that they have entered into a negotiation with the author for its purchase’ (from the Annual Report Council, 1876, referenced in Beattie, p.183). Having purchased the rights, the Union proceeded to cast a limited number of reductions of the model.
The casting was done by John Ayres Hatfield (1815–1881) at his foundry in 1878— three years after Thornycroft’s victory at the Royal Academy. The foundry, which was founded in 1834 and was granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria in 1882, represented a staple of Victorian craftsmanship in London. Their restoration workshop is still active today.
A one-off cast of this model is currently part of the Leighton House Museum collection in Holland Park. This bronze was donated to the museum by the sculptor’s widow, Agatha Thornycroft, in 1930, five years after the artist’s death. By gifting the work, Agatha honoured the mutual esteem between Leighton and Thornycroft, which lasted throughout their careers and is attested to in a series of handwritten letters which form part of the Museum archives.
Hamo Thornycroft, A Warrior Carrying a Wounded Youth from the Field of Battle, Leighton House Museum (image courtesy of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea)