Thomas Woolner

Last updated

Thomas Woolner
Woolner-rossetti.jpg
Thomas Woolner by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Born
Thomas Woolner

(1825-12-17)17 December 1825
Hadleigh, Suffolk, England
Died7 October 1892(1892-10-07) (aged 66)
London, England
EducationApprentice to William Behnes
Known forsculpture, illustration, and poetry
Notable workCivilization, Virgilia
Movement Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Thomas Woolner RA (17 December 1825 – 7 October 1892) was an English sculptor and poet who was one of the founder-members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was the only sculptor among the original members.

Contents

After participating in the foundation of the PRB, Woolner emigrated for a period to Australia. He returned to Britain to have a successful career as a sculptor, creating many important public works as well as memorials, tomb sculptures and narrative reliefs. He corresponded with many notable men of the day and also had some success as a poet and as an art dealer.

Art career

Born in Hadleigh, Suffolk, Woolner trained with the sculptor William Behnes, exhibiting work at the Royal Academy from 1843. He became friendly with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and was invited by him to join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. [1] Woolner was active in the early history of the group, emphasising the need for a more vivid form of realism in sculpture. Woolner's classical inclinations became increasingly difficult to reconcile with Pre-Raphaelite Medievalism, but his belief in close observation of nature was consistent with their aims.

Woolner's sculptures immediately after the foundation of the Brotherhood in 1848 display close attention to detail. He made his name with forceful portrait busts and medallions, but was at first unable to make a living. He was forced to emigrate to Australia in 1852 (inspiring the painting The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown), but after a year he returned to Britain, soon establishing himself as both a sculptor and art-dealer.

His visit to Australia nevertheless helped him to obtain commissions there and elsewhere for statues of British imperial heroes, such as Captain Cook and Sir Stamford Raffles. His bronze statue of John Robert Godley in Christchurch, New Zealand, was toppled and shattered into several pieces by the February 2011 earthquake. It has since been repaired and was re-erected in March 2015.

Woolner became a close friend of Francis Turner Palgrave. The two shared a house and both were known for their combative personalities. Henry Adams refers to them in The Education of Henry Adams , noting that Woolner had a "rough" personality and had to make "a supernatural effort" to be polite. [2] Woolner designed the frontispiece of a piping youth for Palgrave's famous verse anthology the Golden Treasury (1861). There was a minor scandal in 1862 when Palgrave was commissioned to write a catalogue for the 1862 International Exhibition, in which he praised Woolner and denigrated other sculptors, especially Woolner's main rival Carlo Marochetti. The well known controversialist Jacob Omnium pointed out in a series of letters to the press that the two lived together. William Holman Hunt wrote a reply supporting Woolner, [3] but Palgrave was forced to withdraw the catalogue.

Thomas Woolner, c. 1865 Thomas Woolner, c. 1865.jpg
Thomas Woolner, c. 1865

His largest single commission was a programme of architectural sculptures for the Manchester Assize Courts, built in Manchester from 1859 through 1864. Woolner created a large number of statues depicting lawgivers and rulers which formed part of the building's structure. Most dramatic was a giant sculpture depicting Moses which was placed on the top, above the entrance. There were also allegorical figures of Justice and Mercy. Inside was a relief sculpture depicting the Judgment of Solomon , flanked by statues of a Drunk Woman and a Good Woman. Alfred Waterhouse, the architect, wrote, "we are all delighted with your virtuous woman, and disgusted as we ought to be with the awful example." [4] The building was bombed during World War II. Some of the sculptures were saved and incorporated into the replacement building.

Woolner made his living mainly from creating statues of famous men, but his most personal and complex works in sculpture were what he called "ideal" groups, notably Civilization (1867) and Virgilia bewailing the absence of Coriolanus (1871). These demonstrate his attempt to express the tension between the static stone and the dynamic desires of the figures represented emerging into solidity from it. Woolner also made a large number of relief sculptures for memorials. His reliefs depicting scenes from the Iliad were widely reproduced. These were intended to commemorate the classical scholarship of William Gladstone.

He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1875 and served as professor of sculpture from 1877 to 1879.

Personal life

On 6 September 1864 Woolner married Alice Gertrude Waugh. He had initially been in love with her sister, Fanny, and had previously proposed to her, but she turned him down. Fanny married Woolner's Pre-Raphaelite colleague William Holman Hunt the following year, but died in childbirth a year later. In 1874, while in Italy, Hunt married their third sister Edith, an act which Woolner considered immoral and which was defined as incest under British laws at the time. He never spoke to Hunt again.

Hunt's granddaughter Diana Holman-Hunt later claimed that before his marriage Woolner had been involved in a relationship with a lower-class girl called Amelia Henderson, who appealed to Hunt for support. Hunt arranged with Frederick Stephens to give her funds to emigrate to Australia so that she would not interfere with Woolner's wedding plans. [5]

Woolner and Alice had six children, four daughters and two sons. His eldest child, Amy, later wrote a biography of her father. His two sons Hugh (1866–1925) and Geoffrey (1867–1882) were sent to Marlborough College, where Geoffrey died at the age of 14. Hugh became a stockbroker.

Poetry and other work

Portrait of Thomas Woolner by Andrew Carrick Gow (1883), Aberdeen Art Gallery Thomas Woolner RA - Andrew Carrick Gow - ABDAG002453.jpg
Portrait of Thomas Woolner by Andrew Carrick Gow (1883), Aberdeen Art Gallery

Woolner was also a poet of some reputation in his day. His early poem My Beautiful Lady is a Pre-Raphaelite work, emphasising intense unresolved moments of feeling. He later expanded it into a full-length work modelled on Tennyson's narrative poetry. According to William Michael Rossetti, Coventry Patmore "praised Woolner's poems immensely, saying however that they were sometimes slightly over-passionate, and generally 'sculpturesque' in character". [6] By this, he meant that "each stanza was a separate unit". [7]

In the 1880s he wrote three long narrative works, Pygmalion, Silenus and Tiresias. These renounce Pre-Raphaelitism in favour of an often eroticised classicism. The first describes the sculptor Pygmalion's efforts to create a more realistic form of art. He battles against a group called "The Archaics". The second describes the love affair between Silenus and the nymph Syrinx. After her death at the hands of Pan, Silenus becomes an obese alcoholic, but acquires prophetic powers. A vision of the goddess Athena restores him to emotional stability. In Tiresias the blind sage recalls his long life; in a visionary pantheism, he demonstrates his power to understand the language of birds and enter into the experiences of all living things and natural forces.

Woolner was a close friend of a number of writers of the day, notably Thomas Carlyle and Alfred Tennyson. He provided the latter with the scenario for his poem "Enoch Arden".

He also corresponded with Charles Darwin, who named part of the human ear the 'Woolnerian Tip' after a feature in Woolner's sculpture Puck. Woolner had discussed the feature when Darwin had been sitting to him for a portrait. Darwin later sought his views when preparing his 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals .

Thomas Woolner died instantly from a stroke at the age of 66. He was buried in St Mary’s churchyard, Hendon. The kerb around his grave has a sculptor’s mallet and tools carved into it. Buried within St Mary’s Church itself is Sir Stamford Raffles, whose statue he sculpted. His wife Alice died in 1912. Their son, Hugh, travelled back to his home in New York from her funeral on the RMS Titanic. He survived the sinking of the ship. [8]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ford Madox Brown</span> British painter (1821-1893)

Ford Madox Brown was a British painter of moral and historical subjects, notable for his distinctively graphic and often Hogarthian version of the Pre-Raphaelite style. Arguably, his most notable painting was Work (1852–1865). Brown spent the latter years of his life painting the twelve works known as The Manchester Murals, depicting Mancunian history, for Manchester Town Hall.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood</span> Group of English painters, poets and critics, founded in 1848

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and art critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner who formed a seven-member "Brotherhood" modelled in part on the Nazarene movement. The Brotherhood was only ever a loose association and their principles were shared by other artists of the time, including Ford Madox Brown, Arthur Hughes and Marie Spartali Stillman. Later followers of the principles of the Brotherhood included Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and John William Waterhouse.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Holman Hunt</span> Pre-Raphaelite English artist (1827–1910)

William Holman Hunt was an English painter and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His paintings were notable for their great attention to detail, vivid colour, and elaborate symbolism. These features were influenced by the writings of John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, according to whom the world itself should be read as a system of visual signs. For Hunt it was the duty of the artist to reveal the correspondence between sign and fact. Of all the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt remained most true to their ideals throughout his career. He was always keen to maximise the popular appeal and public visibility of his works.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Francis Turner Palgrave</span>

Francis Turner Palgrave was a British critic, anthologist and poet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Frederic George Stephens</span> English painter (1827–1907)

Frederic George Stephens was a British art critic, and one of the two 'non-artistic' members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

<i>The Germ</i> (periodical)

The Germ, thoughts towards nature in art and literature (1850) was a periodical established by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to disseminate their ideas. It was not a success, only surviving for four issues between January and April 1850. The Germ was renamed Art and Poetry, being Thoughts towards Nature, conducted principally by Artists for its last two issues.

Frank Stone (painter) English painter

Frank Stone was an English painter. He was born in Manchester, and was entirely self-taught.

Events from the year 1850 in art.

<i>The Light of the World</i> (painting) Painting by William Holman Hunt

The Light of the World (1851–1854) is an allegorical painting by the English Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt (1827–1910) representing the figure of Jesus preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door, illustrating Revelation 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me". According to Hunt: "I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be divine command, and not simply a good subject." The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing "the obstinately shut mind". The painting was considered by many to be the most important and culturally influential rendering of Christ of its time.

<i>The Shadow of Death</i> Painting by William Holman Hunt

The Shadow of Death is a religious painting by William Holman Hunt, on which he worked from 1870 to 1873, during his second trip to the Holy Land. It depicts Jesus as a young man prior to his ministry, working as a carpenter. He is shown stretching his arms after sawing wood. The shadow of his outstretched arms falls on a wooden spar on which carpentry tools hang, creating a "shadow of death" prefiguring the crucifixion. His mother Mary is depicted from behind, gazing up at the shadow, having been looking into a box in which she has kept the gifts given by the Magi.

<i>The Scapegoat</i> (painting) Painting by William Holman Hunt

The Scapegoat (1854–1856) is a painting by William Holman Hunt which depicts the "scapegoat" described in the Book of Leviticus. On the Day of Atonement, a goat would have its horns wrapped with a red cloth – representing the sins of the community – and be driven off.

<i>Isabella and the Pot of Basil</i> Painting by William Holman Hunt

Isabella and the Pot of Basil is a painting completed in 1868 by William Holman Hunt depicting a scene from John Keats's poem Isabella, or the Pot of Basil. It depicts the heroine Isabella caressing the basil pot in which she had buried the severed head of her murdered lover Lorenzo.

Alexander Munro (sculptor) British sculptor

Alexander Munro was a British sculptor of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. He concentrated on portraiture and statues, but is best known for his Rossetti-influenced figure-group Paolo and Francesca (1852), which has often been identified as the epitome of Pre-Raphaelite sculpture.

<i>Desperate Romantics</i> British television drama series

Desperate Romantics is a six-part television drama serial about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, first broadcast on BBC Two between 21 July and 25 August 2009.

Annie Miller English artists model (1835-1925)

Annie Miller (1835–1925) was an English artists' model who, among others, sat for the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. Her on-off relationship with Holman Hunt has been dramatised several times.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oxford Union murals</span>

The Oxford Union murals (1857–1859) are a series of mural decorations in the Oxford Union library building. The series was executed by a team of Pre-Raphaelite artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. The paintings depict scenes from Arthurian myth.

<i>The Love School</i> 1975 British television drama series

The Love School is a BBC television drama series originally broadcast in 1975 about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, written by John Hale, Ray Lawler, Robin Chapman and John Prebble. It was directed by Piers Haggard, John Glenister and Robert Knights. It was shown during January and February 1975. It includes six episodes, each episode is 75 minutes in length.

<i>Rossetti and His Circle</i>

Rossetti and His Circle is a book of twenty-three caricatures by English caricaturist, essayist and parodist Max Beerbohm. Published in 1922 by William Heinemann, the drawings were Beerbohm's humorous imaginings concerning the life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his fellow Pre-Raphaelites, the period, as he put it, "just before oneself." The book is now considered one of Beerbohm's masterpieces.

Thomas Fairbairn

Sir Thomas Fairbairn, 2nd Baronet was an English industrialist and art collector.

<i>The Girlhood of Mary Virgin</i> Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin is an 1849 oil on canvas painting by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, measuring 83.2 by 65.4 cm and now in the collection of Tate Britain, to which it was bequeathed in 1937 by Agnes Jekyll. It was his first completed oil painting and is signed "Dante Gabriele Rossetti P.R.B. 1849". He first exhibited it at the 'Free Exhibition' at the Hyde Park Corner Gallery.

References

  1. Robinson, Michael (2007). The Pre-Raphaelites. London, England: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 42. ISBN   978-1-84451-742-8.
  2. Henry Adams, Ira B. Nadel, (ed), The Education of Henry Adams, Oxford University Press, 1999, p.183.
  3. James H. Coombs, A Pre-Raphaelite friendship: the correspondence of William Holman Hunt and John Lucas Tupper, UMI Research Press, 1986, p.133.
  4. Terry Wykes, Harry Cocks, Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester, Liverpool University Press, 2004, p.76.
  5. Diana Holman-Hunt, My Grandfather, his Wives and Loves, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1969, p.234.
  6. William Michael Rossetti, ed., Pre-Raphaelite Diaries and Letters (London, 1906), p. 222.
  7. Lionel Stevenson, The Pre-Raphaelite Poets, University of North Carolina Press, NC, 1972, p.256.
  8. "The Fleecing of Woolner", Encyclopedia Titanica