The second in Gilbert's series of autobiographical bronzes, Icarus was commissioned by Frederic, Lord Leighton in 1882 following the exhibition of Perseus Arming at the Grosvenor Gallery. The subject is both a homage to Leighton's 1869 painting Daedalus and Icarus and a reflection of Gilbert's view of himself: 'it flashed across me that I was very ambitious: why not 'Icarus' with his desire for flight?' Various explanations of the Icarus myth's relevance to Gilbert in the early 1880s have been offered by Dorment and others, all illustrating the intense seriousness and self-obsession with which the sculptor approached his art.
The casting of Leighton's commission, a unique 42 in. high cire perdue bronze, was supervised by Gilbert himself at the Sabatino d'Angelis foundry in Naples. Signed and dated Rome 1884, this original cast was later acquired by the celebrated Welsh sculptor, Sir William Goscombe John (1860-1952), and was subsequently gifted to the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. As for reductions of the full-size Icarus, of which the present cast is an example, Goscombe John claimed that there were no more than a dozen in total, Gilbert having destroyed the plaster before leaving for Bruges in 1901. A number of casts are said to have been produced for Robert Dunthorne, for sale through the Rembrandt Gallery, however, there is no record of the Compagnie des Bronzes foundry in Brussels having made casts between 1900 and 1920, although the individual parts do appear to have been available.