Artist: Sir Alfred Gilbert (British 1854–1934). Title: A pair of related bronze sculptures of Fauns or Satyrs, one playing the flute, the other holding panpipes while listening to what the flautist is playing. Their integral bases have been modelled so they may function as book-ends. Medium: Bronze with deep olive patina. Marks: Each signed in the bronze on the upper surface of the base. There are also impressed foundry reference marks. Size: Each 24cm (9.5ins) high (including base). Weight: Flautist 3kg; Pan Piper 3.2kg. The bases are integral to the castings and are not loaded (images available).
The undoing of many an art dealer has been that they have crossed the border to become collectors and as a consequence become no longer capable of parting with their most cherished pieces. We try to make it a hard and fast rule not to do this, but in this case it has been a close call. We buy relatively few pieces of sculpture for our stock and this may be because we only consider pieces of great character which appear nearly animate, as though they could suddenly come to life. Accordingly, we found this pair absolutely irresistible. However, we stick to our rule and these are for sale and we suspect there is a collector out there for whom the prospect of placing them at either end of their New Sculpture movement reference library will be equally irresistible.
Provenance: Little is known of the origins of this fine and lively pair. They appear to have first come to light at an estate auction in the United States and we acquired them at a provincial auction here in the UK. They are indubitably Gilbert's work, and have been accepted as such by expert opinion, but it has not been possible to date them with confidence. Circa 1915 has been suggested, but this would have been during the First World War when Gilbert was in Bruges and not casting in bronze. A Satyr in clay was seen by Adrian Bury in Gilbert's studio in the 1920s, which was believed to date from when he was at Aldenham School between 1865 and 1872 (Richard Dorment et al; Alfred Gilbert, Sculptor and Goldsmith; Royal Academy 1986 p.97).
CONDITION: Both in excellent condition. There are two very minor casting / patination imperfections on the flautist: a small dark encrustation on his right forearm and a tiny dark spot on his left thigh (images available). A little gold colour is showing through the patina of the locks of hair on his forehead, possibly rubbing or simply a little variability in the thickness of patina. The Pan piper has a tiny rub at the lower edge of his base.
BIOGRAPHY: Sir Alfred Gilbert (12 August 1854 – 4 November 1934) was an English sculptor and goldsmith who enthusiastically experimented with metallurgical innovations. He was a key exponent of the New Sculpture movement, which re-invigorated sculpture in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century.
He was the eldest of four children of musician parents were musicians. When he was eighteen he applied for an open scholarship to Middlesex Hospital, intending to become a surgeon. However, he failed to win the scholarship, and instead went on to pursue his artistic interests, first at the Thomas J. Heatherley School of Art in London from 1872–1873 and then the Royal Academy Schools from 1873 to 1875.
In 1872 following a short period of part-time work for the sculptors Matthew Noble and William Gibbs Rogers, Gilbert became an assistant in the studio of Edgar Boehm (1834-90). Gilbert believed Boehm, and a fellow assistant at the studio, the French sculptor Édouard Lantéri (1848-1917), were his greatest teachers. He joined the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1875, where he studied under the sculptor Pierre-Jules Cavelier (1814-1894). In the following year he married his first cousin, Alice Jane Gilbert (1847-1916), with whom he had eloped to Paris.
In 1878, Gilbert moved with his young family to Rome in order to carve his first major sculpture, The Kiss of Victory (1878–81, Minneapolis Institute of Arts) in marble. In italy, he could absorb the influence of the Renaissance sculptors, particularly Donatello, Verrocchio, Cellini, and Giambologna. It was a visit to Florence in 1880 which inspired his bronze, Perseus Arming (1882; a cast in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), which drew on Donatello's David and Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa. This sculpture was to mark his English début in 1882 at the Grosvenor Gallery along with The Kiss of Victory at the Royal Academy.
Both sculptures received critical acclaim, but it was Perseus Arming which was to have a profound influence on the direction of British Sculpture and the movement which was to be called the New Sculpture. The lost wax method by which it was cast was new to England, and its size, 29 inches, fell in new territory between the conventional library or bibelot bronzes and the monumental.
Following the advice of Lord Frederic Leighton, Gilbert returned to England in 1884 in which year his Icarus created a sensation at the Royal Academy. However, he did not immediately follow up these successes and instead embarked on a series of public commissions, beginning with the Fawcett Memorial (1885-7, Westminster Abbey) and then the Winchester jubilee memorial to Queen Victoria (1887, Great Hall of Winchester Castle, Winchester). He also demonstrated his abilities as a goldsmith, with a mayoral chain for the city of Preston (1888–92) and an epergne presented to Queen Victoria as a jubilee gift by the officers of the army (1887–90, Royal Collection), followed by a diverse range of work including spoons, keys, seals, and sword hilts, using materials including ivory, sea shells and crystal.
His next major public commission was for the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in Piccadilly Circus, known popularly as the Statue of Eros, which was unveiled in1893 and was the first time aluminium was cast as a public sculpture. Although slow to win acclaim, this was to become his most famous work and an iconic London landmark. For the following years Gilbert's output was prolific and included the Tomb of the Duke of Clarence, Windsor, 1892-8, completed l926), a bronze bust of the eighteenth-century physician John Hunter (1893–1900, St George's Hospital medical school, Tooting, Surrey), a full-length bronze monument to John Howard (1890–94, Market Square, Bedford), the memorial to Randolph Caldecott in bronze and aluminium (1887–95, St Paul's Cathedral, London), the Whippingham Screen, (1896), Behind the Rider Sits Dark Care (c.1883–7; a cast of 1899 in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London) the Memorial to Lord Arthur Russell (Chenies, 1898) and the bronze bust of Thoby Prinsep (1898, private collection.).
He also received many honours, including Royal Academician in 1892; an honorary degree from the University of Durham in 1893; elected to the consulting committees of the New Gallery, London, in 1890, gifted the Royal Victorian Order of the fourth class in 1897 (for personal services to the sovereign), elected to the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in 1898 and appointed professor of sculpture at the Royal Academy Schools in 1901. He had become the most famous sculptor in England.
Unfortunately, his inability to refuse commissions and subsequent delays in completing them, together with financial mismanagement and an erratic personal life conspired to both besmirch his reputation and bankrupt him in 1901. He moved to Bruges in 1903 and resigned from the R.A. In 1908. Gilbert stayed in Bruges throughout the First World War and, his first wife having died in 1916, married his Flemish housekeeper Stéphanie Quaghebeur, a lace maker, on 1 March 1918.
They lived in Rome from 1924 to 1925 and returned to England in July 1926. Thanks to the efforts of a Scottish journalist and Gilberts biographer, Isabel McAllister, Gilbert was forgiven his past transgressions by King George V and , now 72, allowed to work in a studio at St James's Palace and then later at Kensington Palace. He completed the tomb of the Duke of Clarence and was then given a commission for the memorial for Queen Alexandra. Gilbert was also reinstated as a member of the Royal Academy and received a knighthood in 1932. He died on 4 November 1934 at the Cromwell Nursing Home in London.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Beattie, Susan. The New Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983. Dorment, Richard. Alfred Gilbert. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. Dorment, Richard, et al. Alfred Gilbert: Sculptor and Goldsmith. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1986. Edwards, Jason. Alfred Gilbert's Aestheticism: Gilbert Amongst Whistler, Pater, Wilde, and Burne-Jones Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006. Getsy, David. Body Doubles: Sculpture in Britain, 1877-1905. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004. Read, Benedict. Victorian Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982
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