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Victorian sculpture takes center stage at stateside exhibition

LogoArt historians from the Universities of York and Warwick are co-curating a major exhibition with curators from the Yale Center for British Art and Tate Britain on the making and viewing of sculpture in Britain and its empire during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Professors of History of Art, Jason Edwards from York, Michael Hatt from Warwick, and Martina Droth from Yale are playing key roles in the exhibition Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901, which is organised by the Yale Center for British Art and Tate Britain.

On display at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, USA until 30 November, Sculpture Victorious is the first exhibition of its kind undertaken by a museum. It reveals not only sculpture’s vibrancy and inventiveness, but also its significant cultural and political position in the 19th century.

As Britain became the first urban and industrial nation in the Victorian era, it witnessed a boom in sculpture with the development of new markets, forms of patronage and sites for display. Sculpture Victorious explores this extraordinary blossoming and examines the causes and structures behind it.

Professor Hatt, from Warwick’s Department of History of Art, said: “During the reign of Queen Victoria, public monuments were raised across Britain and its empire, while ambitious sculptural programmes were commissioned for public institutions. Exhibition spectaculars, such as the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, brought thousands of sculptural objects before audiences of millions.”

Professor Edwards added: “Given the enormous public interest in Victorian art and culture, it is curious that sculpture has been almost entirely overlooked. Yet, as the most public of art forms, requiring enormous resources and investment, sculpture was seen as the highest form of culture and provided the Victorians with the exemplary emblem of their nation and empire. Sculpture Victorious will return sculpture to centre stage where it rightfully belongs.”

Curator Martina Droth, from the Yale Center for British Art said: “This is a unique opportunity for our American audiences to view sculptures that have never before left Britain.”

Sculpture Victorious, which will travel to Tate Britain in February 2015, brings together a rich array of objects which are rarely, if ever, seen by a wider public. It includes figures and reliefs in marble, bronze, silver and leather, as well as gems, cameos and porcelain objects, that highlight the imagination of Victorian sculptors and manufacturers. It ranges from Minton’s spectacular seven-foot-high majolica elephant to intricate carvings in ivory and wood.

Key loans include George Frampton’s marble, alabaster and bronze statue of Dame Alice Owen – normally found in the dining hall of the school she founded in Potters Bar - and William Reynolds-Stephens’s Royal Game, which depicts a full-sized Queen Elizabeth and King Philip playing chess with the Spanish Armada.

Also on loan is a magnificent electroplated zinc statue by James Sherwood Westmacott of the Earl of Winchester, one of the barons who led the rebellion against King John of England, resulting in the signing of Magna Carta. The statue normally resides in the Palace of Westminster, where it forms part of the sculptural program of the House of Lords. This is the first time the House of Lords has lent the statue.

Sculpture Victorious, which is co-organised by the Yale Center for British Art and Tate Britain in partnership with the Departments of History of Art at the Universities of York and Warwick, re-asserts the importance of sculpture to Victorian history.

Professor Edwards and Professor Hatt are co-curating Sculpture Victorious with Dr Martina Droth, Associate Director of Research and Curator of Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art, and Dr Greg Sullivan, Curator of British Art 1750–1830 at Tate Britain. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published by the Yale Center in association with Yale University Press.

Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901 will run at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, USA until 30 November 2014 and Tate Britain from 25 February to 25 May 2015. Admission is free. More information at http://britishart.yale.edu/exhibitions/victorian-sculpture

Notes to editors:

  • The Yale Center for British Art is a public art museum and research institute for the study of British art and culture. Presented to Yale University by Paul Mellon (Yale College, Class of 1929), the Center houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom. More information at http://britishart.yale.edu/

    • The Universities of York and Warwick are also working on a three-year collaborative project ‘Displaying Victorian Sculpture’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). For further information visit www.york.ac.uk/history-of-art/victorian-sculpture/


        Contacts:

        To speak with Professor Hatt please contact:

        Tom Frew, International Press Officer, University of Warwick, a dot t dot frew at warwick dot ac dot uk, +44 (0) 2476575910