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Sir Alfred Gilbert, M.V.O., R.A. (1854-1934)

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Sir Alfred Gilbert, M.V.O., R.A. (1854-1934)

An Offering to Hymen

Sir Alfred Gilbert, M.V.O., R.A. (1854-1934) An Offering to Hymen bronze, dark-brown patina; on wooden plinth 11 3/8 in. (28.9 cm.) high, the bronze
with Robert Bowman Ltd., London, 1996.
S. Beattie, The New Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1983, p. 143, pl. 134 (another cast).
R. Dorment, Alfred Gilbert, New Haven and London, 1985, p. 68. pl. 32 (another cast).
R. Dorment, Exhibition catalogue, Arthur Gilbert, Sculptor and Goldsmith, London, The Royal Academy, 1986, pp. 112-4, cat. no. 19 (another cast).
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Lot Essay

From the manuscript catalogue compiled by Gilbert's father, it would appear that An Offering to Hymen or Young Girl with Votive to Hymen, its catalogue title, was begun in Rome in 1884. On his return to London the following year, Gilbert modelled the statue from one of the three Miss Pettigrews - Hetty, Lily and Rose - professional models who posed for Leighton, Whistler, Poynter, Holman Hunt, Millais, Onslow Ford and Philip Wilson Steer. The finished bronze cast was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1886.

Prior to the discovery of a full-size (30 in.) cast not long before the Gilbert retrospective at the Royal Academy in 1986, a century after the first cast was exhibited, An Offering to Hymen tended to be looked upon as a relatively minor work in the sculptor's oeuvre. It is now clear that Gilbert conceived it as an equal third statue in the progression from Perseus to Icarus, of adolescents facing the passage from youth to maturity. Here, a young woman stands before the altar of Hymen, the god of marriage, with votive offerings. Her stiff carriage conveys anxiety and denotes the solemnity and formality with which she will perform the ceremony. In reductions of the model, the girl holds a variety of different offerings - a cup, a flower, a sprig of hawthorn, a tiny figure of Anteros (brother of Eros and god of unrequited love), or a putto with an inverted torch.


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