Although this fine marble is unsigned the quality and manner of its execution, its illustrious provenance and the comparative marbles in the collection, place it firmly amongst the circle of the preeminent Victorian 'ideal' sculptors Lawrence Macdonald, Richard Westmacott, Richard James Wyatt and John Gibson.
John Gibson (1790-1866) is the main Victorian champion of Neoclassicism in sculpture and had numerous connections to the Gladstone family. As a prominent Liverpool merchant Sir John Gladstone (1764-1851) prospered from the phenomenal growth of the city as the principal trading port of the north of England. Liverpool's newly rich merchants, industrialists and entrepreneurs sought to emulate the English aristocratic tradition of collecting neo-classical sculpture and they looked to Rome, and particularly to the established studio of their townsman Gibson, to source prize examples. Gibson received commissions from numerous contemporaries of Gladstone, including the Liverpool West India merchant, Henry Robertson Sandbach (1807-1895), the iron merchant Richard Vaughan Yates (1785-1856) and the banker and politician William Roscoe (1753-1831). As proud civic leaders Roscoe and Gladstone were the main advocates for the establishment in the city of an Academy of Arts (1810) and the Liverpool Institution (1817) and were both closely involved in coordinating the city of Liverpool's monument to George Canning, for which Gibson applied but was unsuccessful: Chantrey eventually securing the commission. Another point of contact between the Gladstone family and Gibson was through the sculptor John Adams-Action who received at his studio on Gibson's instruction the young William Ewart Gladstone, in Rome on his Grand Tour. Later Adams-Acton would become Gladstone's preferred sculptor, executing numerous portrait busts and a full-scale statue of the future Prime Minister for St. George's Hall (see P. Curtis, ed., Patronage & Practice: Sculpture on Merseyside, Liverpool, 1989, pp. 27-30 & p. 35).
The present figure takes for its inspiration the Roman antique marble 'Nymph with a shell' which is now in the collection of the Louvre, Paris (see F. Haskell & N. Penny Taste and the Antique, Yale, 1982, no. 67, pp. 280-1). However rather than showing the nymph looking down and holding a shell, the present figure is depicted to evoke our sympathy with pleading outstretched right hand and head titled upwards. The pose recalls Gibson's Narcissus, his Royal Academy diploma work of 1838, as does the carving of the hair of classical hewn ringlets.
A marble figure by Alfred Gatley (1816-1863), a sculptor who was also known to Gibson in Rome, shows the nymph Echo similarly posed to the present lot. The subject is drawn from Ovid's Metamorphoses, III: 339-401. Echo was a wood nymph who lost the ability to speak her thoughts through a punishment from Juno. She fell in love with the vain youth Narcissus and the present lot may, like Gatley's marble, show the nymph at the moment when she has caught sight of her lover and strains to hear his voice (see An English white marble figure of Echo by Alfred Gatley, Christie's, London, 15 July 1993, lot 258).