Audio: Sir Alfred Gilbert, Saint George
Sir Alfred Gilbert, M.V.O., R.A. (1854-1934)
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Sir Alfred Gilbert, M.V.O., R.A. (1854-1934)

Saint George

Sir Alfred Gilbert, M.V.O., R.A. (1854-1934)
Saint George
bronze, rich dark brown patina on green veined marble base
19 in. (48 cm.), high
circa 1899-1900
Dr John F. Hayward.
L. Lewis, Q.C.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts (on loan).
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 17 May 2011, lot 23.

Alfred Gilbert, New Haven and London, 1985, pp. 147-190
R. Dorment, Alfred Gilbert – Sculptor and Goldsmith, Royal Academy of Arts, London, pp. 161-165 & N° 72, p. 164 (another cast).
N. Penny, Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum, vol. III, Oxford, 1992, pp. 84-7
B. Read & J. Barnes (eds.), Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture, London, 1991, N° 13, p. 103
Manchester, City Museum & Art Gallery; Minneapolis, Institute of Arts; New York, The Brooklyn Museum, Victorian High Renaissance, 1978-9, no. 107b.
London, The Fine Art Society, Gibson to Gilbert. British Sculpture 1840-1914, 1992, no. 3.

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Lot Essay

Saint George is the definitive object of the New Sculpture movement and emblematic of the patronage and process of the Victorian art market.

Conceived as one of twelve deities gracing the niches of Gilbert’s masterpiece, the tomb of the Duke of Clarence, Saint George is one of the most important Royal art commissions of the 19th century. So impressed were the Royal family, they also commissioned in 1895 the figure in ‘white mental’ and ivory for their private chapel at Sandringham. The present bronze cast is one of eight known examples: one is in the collection of the Paul Mellon Center for British Art and another is in the permanent collection of the Ashmolian Museum, Oxford.

H.R.H Prince Albert Victor, called Eddy by his family, was, as son of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, heir apparent to the throne of England. He tragically died of pneumonia at Sandringham in 1892 aged just 28. With the death the year before of Joseph Edgar Boehem, there was no ‘Sculptor in Ordinary’ to Queen Victoria upon whom the Prince of Wales could call to design a tomb for his son. The Prince of Wales, often unjustly mis-characterized as a mere bon vivant, was a great patron of the arts: he knew Gilbert and called him to Sandringham just three days after the funeral to submit a design for the tomb. The resulting tomb is a neo-Gothic and art nouveau bronze, marble and aluminium caprice centred with an effigy of Prince Albert Victor in the Xth Hussars uniform beneath a crouching angel. It was a wildly radical and cutting edge design which almost fills the Albert Memorial Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Gilbert himself saw the commission for the tomb of the Duke of Clarence almost as a divine calling, placing tremendous pressure on himself in working and reworking ad infinitum his designs. After the original sketch for the tomb was approved by Queen Victoria on 6th March 1892, the sculptor's plans developed, becoming ever more elaborate and ambitious. After a visit to the artist's studio the following year the Queen wrote: 'Mr Gilbert showed me ... a small wooden model of the grillage which is to go round the tomb, on which different figures of saints are introduced.' Five years later, in 1898, Queen Victoria herself placed the figure of Saint George in his niche on the tomb and the monument was opened to the public.

Gilbert’s concentration on the tomb forced him to neglect private commissions and contributed to his final bankruptcy in 1901. Gilbert’s perilous financial affairs probably motivated his decision in 1899 to produce replicas of four figures from the tomb, including Saint George, for sale on the art market. Labelled ‘working models’ they were sold to the dealer Mr Dunthorne for £500. The present bronze is one statue from this small and exclusive edition. Saint George is sand cast in at least sixteen pieces, rather than in fewer larger pieces, allowing Gilbert to exercise his goldsmith eye for detail which is especially apparent in the fan-plates and flared tassets of the armour. Gilbert had been denied permission to reproduce photographs of the tomb, and his decision to edit the statues caused no small amount of upset to his Royal patrons, especially as the ‘working models’ included figures which had not yet been delivered for the tomb itself. By this time crowned King, Edward VII was so upset he vowed never to speak to Gilbert again – and never did. Queen Alexandra continued correspondence with Gilbert in an effort to get the tomb finally completed but neither would see the dedication of their son’s memorial. Only in 1926 did George V succeed in extracting from Gilbert the final two figures of St Hubert of Liège and St Nicolas of Myra.

This statuette defines the New Sculpture movement. The design shows the varied influences that the movement embodied from the dramatic contrapposto pose and rich brown patination, which are drawn from Renaissance bronzes, to the heroic nationalism of the subject, and the uniquely Victorian mixture of ornament – with the pagan symbol for selfless love on his breastplate, set against the sword with crucifix hilt which symbolises St. Georges’ role as both warrior and saint (the sword is replaced or lost on other casts, but to the present bronze it is original).

Gilbert’s inspiration draws on equally varied sources. Burne-Jones is often cited as the source for the design of the armour, with reference to the costumes he designed for Henry Irving in the role of King Arthur, and his many studies of armour for his Perseus paintings and Briar Rose series (B. Read & J. Barnes (eds.), op. cit., N°s 7 & 8, p. 98).

Influences of old are the Castlefranco Madonna of 1504-5 and Pieter Visscher the Elder’s King Arthur on the Monument to Emperor Maximilian I, circa 1512. The development of the subject in Gilbert’s own work can be seen from his figure of Fortitude for the Fawcett Memorial and his St George of the Jubilee Epergne. Also again typical of the New Sculpture movement, Gilbert looks to his French contemporaries: compare St Michael by Emmanuel Frémiet, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1879.

One can see in this figure of Saint George a nobility reminiscent of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s imagined connection to a Romantic chivalric past. It is possible to speculate that the Royal family were attracted to this particular statue not just as a Memento Mori, but that they saw in it, something of their hopes of the King that Prince Eddy might have become. There is a kingly solemnity in the pose of Saint George, as he raises his hand to bless both his dragon foe, and us.

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