Two works of art by sculptor Goscombe John at Newport Museum and Art Gallery
Yesterday I went on the behind the scenes art tour at Newport Art Gallery. The space is so limited that only 5 people can be allowed into a store at a time. We saw art that had been on display and is waiting to be displayed again, but this is a great way to allow the public to stay acquainted with stored art. Also Barbara Bartl (Museum Officer for Collections) knew so much about each painting that we learned a great deal more. The collection is large and very important and represents artists from all over Britain. We learned how the paintings were acquired and how many are increasingly being loaned to other accredited museums for exhibitions. 508 paintings can be viewed on line via
Whilst in one of the stores, I noted that there were two works of art by sculptor William Goscombe John. One was called A Boy at Play and the other The Elf. Having studied Goscombe John’s archive of letters held by Cardiff Library, I was able to discover that A Boy at Play was first displayed at the Royal Academy in 1895 and was produced as a life sized model in plaster. He produced many copies of his original works of art in different mediums and by 1896 he had produced replicas of A Boy at Play in bronze, one life size and some in statuette size. One in statuette size was acquired by ‘Newport Mon. Art Gallery’ in that year. The Elf had also been produced as a life sized plaster statue and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1898. In 1907 bronze statuettes were created and one was acquired by Newport Art Gallery. Bronze was the medium John used most and his mastery of detail especially suited bronze and today’s lighting techniques reveal the intricacies of folds and crevices in his sculptures and create an impression of animated energy.
The ex-keeper of art from National Museum Wales, Oliver Fairclough, has written about Goscombe John. He was born, William John, in Cardiff in March 1860, and assumed the name Goscombe from a Gloucestershire village near his mother's old home. His father Thomas John was a woodcarver in Lord Bute’s workshops which were established for the restoration of Cardiff Castle. At fourteen years of age John joined his father, but also studied drawing at Cardiff School of Art. In 1881 he went to London as an apprentice to Thomas Nicholls, the sculptor responsible for Cardiff Castle's Animal Wall. He studied at the Kennington School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools, where he was taught naturalistic modelling in clay, in the French manner, which was introduced to London in the 1870s by Jules Dalou. He spent a year in Paris where he watched the French sculptor Auguste Rodin at work. In 1890 he returned to London and settled in St John's Wood.
Oliver Fairclough informs us that John was part of the British sculptor movement. They were trying to make sculpture more dynamic through the naturalistic representation of the human body. John produced works of art which achieved acclaim such as Morpheus and a statue of John the Baptist and produced life-size nudes including A Boy at Play and The Elf which show a mastery of anatomical form. By the end of the 1890s John had established himself as an artist of note and was being given many public commissions and in the years following the First World War he was kept busy creating memorials of commemoration. By this time sculptural methods were changing and artists were carving directly onto stone.
A Boy at Play acquired © 1896
The Elf, acquired © 1907John always kept his relationship with Wales. Goscombe John created many medals for the Royal National Eisteddfod Association and designed the Hirlas Horn for use in Gorsedd ceremonies which will be seen this year at the Eisteddfod in Abergavenny in August. He was paid £359 for labour and materials and it was presented by the donor, Lord Tredegar, at the Cardiff Eisteddfod of 1899. In 1911, he was commissioned to create the regalia for the investiture of the future Edward VIII as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. He designed a crown, a ring, a sceptre and a sword that contained a 'Welsh' iconography of dragons, daffodils and Celtic interlace. In 1916 he contributed the central marble figure of St David Blessing the People in a group of ten figures made for Cardiff City Hall.
One of my favourite sculptures is ‘The Response 1914’. This war memorial was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in 1923 and is in the grounds of St Thomas's Church, in Newcastle Upon Tyne. It depicts a group of thirty people responding to the call to arms. It shows soldiers marching to war watched by an angel while women and children bid them farewell. The intricate crowd scene is so detailed that it is necessary to view it in sections to appreciate the various tableaus he created.
Goscombe John was made a Royal Academician in 1909 and was knighted in 1911. He died in 1952 aged 92. His legacy can be seen in his numerous works of art.
For further examples of his work see
The Victorian Web: Goscombe John http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/john/17.html
National Museum Wales: http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/art/online/?action=show_works&item=409&type=artist
Article by: Oliver Fairclough, Keeper of Art, 10 December 2011: http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/cardiff/art/impressionist-modern/goscombe-john/