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Sir Francis Chantrey, Queen Victoria, 1838 – 1841. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

LONDON.- Sculpture Victorious is the first major exhibition devoted to the innovative and compelling sculpture produced during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901). It shows how sculpture featured in all aspects of Victorian politics, empire and industry and includes major Victorian sculptors like Francis Chantrey and Alfred Gilbert, alongside lesser-known artists such as Mary Watts and William Reynolds-Stephens. The exhibition opened on 25 February at Tate Britain. 

The Victorian period was a Golden Age for British sculpture. The country had a monarch and a Consort who commissioned and encouraged sculptors, and the State, long a bystander in the encouragement of arts, commissioned a range of sculpture and decoration to ornament the new Houses of Parliament. New scientific technologies such as electrotyping were developed, and sculptors collaborated with manufacturers to create ever more elaborate silverwork, jewellery, and ceramic ornament. The grand public events, most famously The Great Exhibition of 1851 provided spectacular opportunities to showcase these productions, and demonstrate new developments in the carving of traditional materials such as wood or marble. 

Throughout the period sculptors allied technical novelty to iconographic innovation, finding new subjects and compositions inspired by antiquity and the nation’s past to create works that would have startled their predecessors. These works still have the capacity to surprise us today. George Frampton’s life-size Dame Alice Owen 1897 in marble, alabaster, bronze, paint and gilding is being shown alongside finely-wrought silver and exquisitely-detailed electrotypes, such as James Sherwood Westmacott’s electroplated Baron Saher de Quincy, Earl of Winchester 1854. The latter has been removed from the House of Lords for the very first time for this exhibition. 

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George Frampton, Dame Alice Owen, 1897 © Dame Alice Owen’s School 

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James Sherwood Westmacott, Baron Saher de Quency, Earl of Winchester, 1854. Palace of Westminster, London

Highlights include three pieces of jewellery from The Devonshire Parure 1856 made for Lady Granville, the 6th Duke of Devonshire’s niece, to wear when she represented Queen Victoria at the coronation of Tsar Alexander II in Moscow; one of a unique pairing of large, coloured earthenware elephants manufactured for the 1889 Paris Exposition; and a Bishop’s pastoral staff in gilt metal, semi-precious stones, and enamels that is still in use today. 

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C.F. Hancock (d. 1891), The Devonshire Parure. Gold, enamel, diamonds, cornelian, onyx, garnet, jacinths, lapis lazuli, plasma, and sardonyx; 1856

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Thomas Longmore and John Hénk,Elephant, 1889 © Thomas Goode & Co. Ltd., London

Other significant loans include George Gilbert Scott’s model for the tomb of Philippa of Hainault in Westminster Abbey (1850-1), and Rafaelle Monti’s breathtaking Veiled Vestal. Frederic Leighton’s An Athlete Wrestling with a Python 1877, Sir Hamo Thornycroft’s Teucer 1881 and Hylas Surprised by the Naiades exh.1837 by John Gibson from Tate’s collection are also included. 

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Hamo Thornycroft, Teucer, 1881 © Tate

Sculpture Victorious has been organised in collaboration with the Yale Center for British Art. It is curated at Tate by Greg Sullivan, Curator British Art 1750 – 1830 with Hannah Lyons, Assistant Curator British Art 1850 - 1915 and Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, Assistant Curator British Art 1850 - 1915. The show was devised, and curated at Yale, by Martina Droth, Associate Director of Research and Curator of Sculpture at the Center, Jason Edwards, Professor of History of Art at the University of York and Michael Hatt, Professor of History of Art at the University of Warwick. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by the Center in association with Yale University Press.

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Thomas Wilkinson Wallis, Partridges and Ivy, 1871. Louth Museum (Louth, UK)

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Harry Bates, Pandora, 1891 © Tate

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Sir William Reynolds-Stephens, A Royal Game, 1906-11 © Tate