Displaying Victorian Sculpture (2010-2013)

AHRC Grant 2010-2013: University of York, University of Warwick and the Yale Center for British Art

Collaboration between the University of York, the University of Warwick and the Yale Center for British Art

Funding: £444,661 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Duration: Three years from October 2010

Lead investigators:Professor Michael Hatt (University of Warwick) and Dr Jason Edwards (University of York)

The Project

Displaying Victorian Sculpture was a major, three-year collaborative project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, that undertook to return sculpture to centre stage in discussions of 19th-century British culture, and to re-assert the importance of sculpture to Victorian history.

While Victorian Studies has undergone a remarkable growth in the past two decades, with exhaustive research into many aspects of 19th-century British culture, scholars have almost entirely overlooked Victorian sculpture. Displaying Victorian Sculpture sought to return sculpture to centre stage, and to re-assert the importance of sculpture to Victorian national and imperial history. The project focused on the display of sculpture in 19th-century Britain and its colonies, in museums and galleries, public spaces inside and out, and in homes from royal palaces to suburban villas.

Addressing a range of objects from cameo brooches through Parianware statuettes to imperial monuments, Displaying Victorian Sculpture aimed to reveal the diverse and significant social life of sculpture in 19th-century Britain: a social life both physical – in its weighty presence in public and private spaces around the world, and conceptual – as aesthetic and moral exemplar and as political art par excellence.

The project was led by the departments of History of Art at the University of Warwick and the University of York, with our project partner, the Yale Center for British Art. It also involved the participation of three regional collections: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow; National Museums Liverpool; and National Museum Cardiff.

The project funded a post-doctoral fellowship, awarded to Dr Claire Jones, who was also the project administrator; as well as four PhD studentships, each contributing as a key member of the project team: Dr Charlotte Drew and Dr Gabriel Williams (both University of York), and Dr Désirée de Chaire and Dr Eoin Martin (both University of Warwick).

At the heart of the project was Sculpture Victorious,a major international exhibition of Victorian sculpture, which opened first at the Yale Center for British Art in Autumn 2014 and then transferred to Tate Britain in February 2015. A substantial catalogue was published to accompany the exhibition.

A website was set up, hosted by the Yale Center for British Art. Sculpture and Ceremonial: Monuments to Queen Victoria maps statues of Queen Victoria around the world, with a timeline and accompanying photographs.

In collaboration with the Henry Moore Institute, members of the project team curated a series of Library Displays to highlight the importance of the Institute’s Archive and Library to the study of Victorian sculpture:

  • Albert Toft: A Lesson in Modelling and Sculpture, 24 January 2014 - 23 March 2014, curated by Charlotte Drew;

  • Richard Westmacott’s Lessons from the Past, 21 October - 22 December 2013, curated by Gabriel Williams;

  • The Sculptor Prince? Victor Gleichen and the Sculpture Profession in late-Victorian Britain, 11 January - 17 March 2013, curated by Eoin Martin;

  • Taking Note: William Hamo Thornycroft’s Education Outside the Studio, 22 May - 22 July 2012, curated by Dr Claire Jones.

A symposium was held in York on Displaying Victorian Sculpture on 13 June 2012.

On 9 May 2011, Professor Hatt and Dr Edwards gave the Perry Bequest Lecture 2011 at the University of Bristol School of Humanities on 'Displaying Victorian Sculpture'.

A monograph on sculpture in nineteenth-century Britain, with the working title A Contested Medium: Sculptural Innovation in Britain 1837-1901 is forthcoming, edited by Dr Jones.

[Published 8 March 2017; updated 15 May 2017]

Main image: Hero and Leander (detail), by Henry Hugh Armstead, marble, 1875. ©Tate, London

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