Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98) 1882

Thomas Woolner 

Portrait of William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98), Thomas Woolner
19th Century
13 1/2 inches 34.3 cm
A.Woolner, Thomas Woolner RA, Sculptor and Poet: His Life in Letters, London 1917, pp.236-40 + 340 H.C.G.Matthew, The Gladstone Diaries, Oxford 1968, Vol.VI, pp.221-4 B.Read, Was There Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture? in Pre-Raphaelite Papers, London 1984, pp.123 + 174 ed. B.Read + J.Barnes, Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture: Nature and Imagination in British Sculpture 1848-1914, London 1991, pp. 156-7
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Thomas Woolner was the only sculptor member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which he joined in 1848 through his association with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He became an active participant within the PRB and his literary contributions included poetry to The Germ from which he forged a very close friendship with the Tennysons. After a period in Australia, he returned to London in 1854 and established a substantial practice in portrait sculpture. Woolner became a highly respected figure in the art establishment, receiving a number of commissions for public monuments and between 1877-9 was Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Academy.

Gladstone sat to Woolner on two occasions, firstly in 1866 and then again in 1882, for this fine bronze. The former resulted in a clay model, showing the distinguished statesmen and author wearing a jacket and necktie, from which two versions in marble were carved. Of these one went to Hawarden Castle and the other was presented by Gladstone's election committee to Oxford University, where he had been Member of Parliament until 1865.

It is significant that the first sittings were agreed to under duress from his wife and from his brother-in-law, George William Lyttelton. However, he must have been extremely satisfied with the result because in 1882 he agreed to the execution of a further marble bust (from which this bronze was taken) commissioned by the Corporation of the City of London and placed in the Guildhall.(2) The block of marble for the bust was given by the Greek Government in admiration of the great politician. This time at Gladstone''s request it was a severely classical work, with no drapery and it was he said, how he wished to be remembered.

In a letter addressed to Woolner from Gladstone, dated October 1882, the sitter records his and Mrs. Gladstone's warm appreciation of the great merits of the bust.

Only two castings were taken, one of which remained in the artist's studio after his death and which was exhibited by his widow in 1897.(4) In 1927 one of these two busts, identical in every aspect except size (it is only 9 inqhes high) was presented to the National Portrait Gallery London by Alfred Jones. This work, the other of these extremely rare and highly important busts has remained until recently in private hands.
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