25 February – 25 May 2015
Marbles, ceramic and silverware reveal the Victorian era was a golden age for sculpture.
The 19th century was a period of unparalleled technical and industrial innovation in Britain. Sculpture – perhaps more than any other art form – profited from the the new materials and methods this afforded. What's more, the reigning monarch Queen Victoria was passionate about the medium, and she and her consort championed sculptors and their work. For the first time, commissions were given for works to ornament the new Houses of Parliament.
Focusing specifically on pieces created during during Victoria’s reign, this show explores sculptural creativity during the 1800s. As well as producing increasingly elaborate designs in marble and wood, sculptors began to collaborate with manufacturers during this period and branched into lavish silverwork, jewellery and ceramic ornament. The Great Exhibitions – a highlight of Victorian life – were a place for them to show off these new designs.
Frederic Lord Leighton was infatuated with Italian art and used Roman classical sculptures as models for his figure paintings. With the assistance of Thomas Brock, he created two life-size sculptures of his own. The earlier of the pair An Athlete Wrestling with a Python is shown here; it was intended as a challenge to the great classical sculpture The Laocoön, which similarly shows three men being crushed by two sea serpents.