Boy at Play
Sir William Goscombe John
Signed W. Goscombe John
inscribed E. Gruet Jne Fondeur Paris.
Bronze with dark and lighter brown patination
Height: 26 1/4'' (66 cm)
Conceived 1895 and cast circa 1900
Boy at Play is perhaps the most famous sculpture by Sir William Goscombe John. It was first exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1895 and won a gold medal at the Paris International Exhibition of 1900.
The young boy is depicted playing a game of Knuckles, where a stone is thrown out in front of the participant, who must reach it with his toe without falling over. The sculptor wonderfully captures the balance and concentration of the boy, combining together the slight muscular tension and youthful grace of the subject. In this light, the work clearly shows the influence of John’s master, Aimé-Jules Dalou, and Alfred Gilbert.
A year after the piece was first exhibited, the TATE Gallery bought the life-size bronze of the work for £500 as part of the Chantrey Bequest. A second life-size version, known as the Lady Goscombe John Memorial, was given by the artist in memory of his wife to the National Museum of Wales in 1924.
John produced two other reduced scale versions of the work – 66 cm and 45 cm tall respectively. The taller version, such as the present example is the rarest, displaying a fully worked surface reminiscent of the finished, life-size work. At least four casts of this medium version were produced, two of which are housed at the Manchester City Art Gallery and the Newport Museum and Art Gallery respectively. The smaller version can be found in several private collections, as well as in the Newport Art Gallery (Gwent) and The National Museum of Wales (Cardiff), and is characterised by a more ‘impressionistic’ modelling and by a larger base.