L., L. "The Two Pre-Raphaelitisms. Concluded." Crayon 4 (Dec. 1857), 361-363.

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The sculptor of the Brotherhood, whose works have now to be described, is Thomas Woolner, who has applied the principles of Art, which, in common with his compeers, he felt to be the truth, to carving in marble, when they had to deal with the gorgeousness of colors. Numerically the greater part of his works have been medallion portraits,–and never has that sort of sculpture been more nobly employed;–posterity will look upon this age as fortunate in possessing a sculptor whose admirable skill will hand down to them the solid truth, the unsophisticated fact, and the noblest thought of his labors, and moreover, will congratulate itself upon having such inestimable records of some of the greatest men of this age, which his portraits will then become. Amongst others, it will be sufficient to state the names of Wordsworth, Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Tennyson, and Robert Browning, as the subjects of his sculptures. The portrait of Wordsworth, which is over the tomb at Grasmere, is of his work; also, two medallions of Carlyle; two medallions and a marble bust of Tennyson; and a medallion of Robert Browning are of it. All these medallions have been cast in bronze (oh! fortunate future), and will bear his name, if for this alone, through equal times with theirs.

And it is impossible to conceive anything more loyal (that is the word), or more nobly honest and manly than these portraits; nor of this alone, which might be a mere matter of execution, though of the noblest, but there is a vigorous depth and a grave repose, united with the most delicate execution, the most exquisite finish, and keenest perception of character, which goes down into the very heart of the man whom he has to represent. The breadth and solidity of the style of the Theseus are here united with the human character of the early mediæval sculptures, many of which exhibit the only means of forming even a comparison with these sculptures. It is the fact of their excessive humanity which endows them with such wonderful interest, we get into sympathy with them as we do with Titian’s portraits. It is the good fortune of sculpture, by means of casts, that it may be spread over the world, and every one feel without stint the same pleasure that we do in looking at these works; which are not less valuable as works of Art than they are as portraits. Among other English notabilities are medallions of Coventry Patmore and the Right Hon. Stephen Lushington.

Two years of Woolner’s professional life have been spent in Australia, where he executed portraits of Governor La Trobe, Dr. Godfrey Howitt, etc., of Melbourne; and at Sydney–the Governor-General, Sir C. Fitzroy, Sir C. Nicholson, Sir W. Macarthey, Admiral King, and W. C. Wentworth, J. Macarthur, J. Martin, Esqs., and many others; all these exhibit the same boldness and life-like character as those already referred to, and as works of Art are equally valuable.

The chiefest of his portrait works is the bust of Tennyson just completed, which shows the great English poet with that Jupiter-like character which so distinguishes him;–under the repose of the face is that elegant severity which his works so largely exhibit, and the sculptor has seized in the clear lines of the face, that eloquent expression which one would expect to find therein from a knowledge of the works of the great master of modern verse.

Admirable as these portraits are, they are but portraits, and exhibit but one quality of the sculptor’s mind; where we see him more fully is in those works in which he has been at liberty to pronounce for himself; of those we shall particularize three: firstly, a statue, entitled "Love," sometimes "Un Rêve d’Amour;" secondly, a little figure of "Puck;" and, thirdly, a statue of ["]Bacon."

The statue of "Love" represents a young girl, over whose mind the first thought of love has come like a blush, the clear light of morning, or like the first faint tint of color in the petals of a rose;–she stands lost in her fancy–half a dream, half a thought–hesitating, as her hands are about to place a star-flower in her hair;–just mechanically she raises her knee to stay her robe as it slips from off her form; her pure, youthful figure is just breathing the softest, and no more. Her head, which both actions makes to look down, stooping under the arching of the arms, curves with a lovely droop like the flower she holds, and with such a reserve of grace and modest maidenhood, that we could never look under the falling of those large eyelids with the dream about them. All her soft, beautiful face has a tender exquisiteness of youth about it which is very lovely and good. The figure, in point of execution only as a work of Art, is human and life-like:–to use an old-fashioned, but expressive phrase, the whole figure is "lady-like." The sculptor’s idea has been worked out in full, for the pervading character is a soft and noble chastity and air, which the statue bears in every part.

The figure of "Puck" shows the frolicsome goblin poised on the head of a mushroom, turning over a young frog with his foot, with a fantastic laugh and clutch of the fingers over the hands; there is a grotesqueness of humor in it which is not only in contrast, but is the just accompaniment of the spirit in which the statue of "Love" was conceived. Puck’s sinewy legs are wide about his pedestal, and with elfish fun he enters into the humor of his action. There is as much muscularity and vigor about the way in which this figure is executed as there is grace and elegant chastity in the other. It is quite a different idea of Puck from the stout boy which is usually understood as his corporeal fitting. It is a little elf, but adult, and sinewy and strong; active as the speed of fire; the merriest subject of the "King of Shadows;" mischievous withal; and likely to play worse tricks than that upon the "wisest aunt," in likeness of a three-footed stool;–he is robust enough for the deeds of wheat-threshing for his favorites they tell of him. The Puck of sculptors is generally a dismal creation, like a sickly Ariel.

The statue of Bacon is carved to be placed in the Taylor Institution at Oxford, amongst many others of great men of science. Woolner has him here standing, with a half-step forward, as he illustrates and enforces an argument, pointing the fingers of one hand upon the other. The expression is so admirable and spirited that one almost fancies the eyes to lighten with eagerness; over the mouth is the smile of conviction and victory; there is conscious power without haughtiness, and much loving geniality in both action and look. He wears the long fur-trimmed velvet cloak of a chancellor of England; we say velvet, advisedly, because the folds are those of velvet, with all the heavy softness which that fabric has. There is one subtlety in the design which may well be noticed; it is, that as he advances the robe has crossed over his foot as if to stay and check the eagerness of his action, the feeling of victory bringing him to the earth again, doubtless an allusion to the only stain upon the greatest of all Englishmen. Not unmindful of that charge which that dying philosopher left to his countrymen, Woolner has put this only about his feet, for the rest of the figure is free and majestically eager:–a knight of the mind doing his devoir.

Another work was a statue of, and two groups relating to Wordsworth, which were designed in competition with other sculptures of the same subject, for a place in Westminster Abbey, as commemorative of the poet. The statue of Wordsworth himself, which occupied the central position, was raised upon a pedestal, and represented him seated in a chair in a contemplative attitude; he had one knee crossed upon the other, and the upper part of the figure shrouded in a loose cloak or mantle; one of the hands was disengaged from this, resting easily upon the knee, and holding a flower of the small celandine–the other hand was locked in his breast, a favorite attitude with the poet. The expression of the features was tenderly and solemnly thoughtful, while in the face was maintained an admirable likeness to the man; the draperies were broadly and freely disposed, and so arranged as justly to balance the attitude, which was easy and unconstrained. Flanking this figure, and on a lower level, were two groups of figures of a less size. That on the one side was symbolical of law, or control of the passions; that on the other, of religion, or Nature contemplated to God’s glory, the bases upon which Wordsworth built his whole system of poetry and life. Law is represented by a father curbing the passions of a sullen child. Religion, or worship, is shown by a mother talking to her daughter of Nature’s splendors, and intimates that it is all given in order that we may thereby praise and glorify God. On the pedestal’ of the chief statue was an illustration in bas-relief from "Peter Bell," that being the most characteristic of Wordsworth’s literary labors, wherein he shows that common things are as suggestive, when rightly looked at, as the most exalted subjects; in it he endeavors to show that Nature takes the aspect of the mind that contemplates it. The immediate subject from the poem is that where Peter is striking the ass, and his own conscience checks him for his cruelty. The motto of the whole work, and more especially that of the principal figure, was the famous and beautiful passage from "The Ode to Immortality:"

"Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

It will be perceived from what we have said of Woolner’s works, that the quality which he excels in, and has sought for, is reality, not the gross and coarse side of it, still less ideality, frittering truth away, but real truth itself, more precious than any human figment; for a distinct manliness is about all his works, and a vigor which has subdued all things to itself, and wrought out a noble thought whenever it came into action, whether in the medallion portraits, the bust of Tennyson, or the statues of "Love," "Puck," and "Bacon." The finish these carvings possess is so extraordinary, that it seems impossible to carry the bare fact of imitation to a greater extent; the veins which pulsate in the forehead of Tennyson seem as if full of blood, and yet they are so delicately executed that at a little distance they are invisible; actually, the very different textures of the skin in different parts of the face is marked with the highest possible skill. It cannot fail to strike the reader that this is a rare fact in modern sculpture. Of the motives of these works, could anything be more humanly pure than the "Love," more characteristic than the Bacon and Wordsworth, or more humorously genial than the "Puck?"

John L. Tupper, a contributor to this journal, has adopted in a modified form some of the Pre-Raphaelite principles, and carried out his convictions in several sculptures, which exhibit great care and profound scientific knowledge, of a kind which is seldom brought to the aid of Art.

We shall here conclude our remarks upon the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and their companions and followers, with the expression of a hope that the reader has found some matter of interest in this complete account we have presented of the objects, the efforts, and the success of this great movement; a movement which took its rise, not in the ephemeral fancies of a day, but in the solemn conviction that truth and Nature are the bases of all men’s right actions, and that victory must ultimately be the reward of those who unflinchingly act upon them.

L. L.

This document was scanned/transcribed from the original source.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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