Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait Bust of W.E. Gladstone PM (1808 - 1898) 1880

Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm Bt. 

Portrait Bust of W.E. Gladstone PM (1808 - 1898), Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm Bt.
19th Century
25 1/2 inches 65 cm high including socle
Private Collection
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The combination of Boehm and Gladstone results in a work of singular power and directness, not only through the talent of one and the particular character of the other, but through their shared dislike of polish and contrivance. Boehm's sculpture is known for its realism - witness his famous statuette of William Makepiece Thackeray with his hands in his pockets (London, National Portrait Gallery) - and its deliberate distancing from neo-classical artifice. His Wellington monument opposite Apsley House was criticised by contemporaries for its want of harmony and grandeur, but it is now considered - along with his statue of Thomas Carlyle (London, Chelsea Embankment Gardens) - to be one of the finest pieces of nineteenth century sculpture in the city. Contemporaries too held him highly, and the patronage of Queen Victoria that began in 1869 led to some forty Royal commissions. He was appointed Queen''s Sculptor in Ordinary in 1880 and created a baronet in 1889. He was also the tutor to the Queen''s daughter Princess Louise, whose impressive full-length seated statue of her mother deserves attention on the Broad Walk in front of Kensington Palace.

The particular commission that resulted in this terracotta and the related marble bust at Dalmeny House, the seat of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, is of some political interest. The sculptor took his sittings for the bust as Gladstone wrote his speeches at Dalmeny House during the 1880 Midlothian election contest. This was the election that returned Gladstone as Prime Minister, but is notable also for the fact that Rosebery, his lieutenant at this time and later, in 1894. successor as Prime Minister, pioneered the techniques of ''electioneering'', which he had witnessed first hand in America. Midlothian was thus the first constituency in Britain to be exposed to mass meetings, parades and contrived euphoria.
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