John Henry Foley, sculptor often referred to as JH Foley, is born on May 24, 1818 at 6 Montgomery Street, Dublin, in what is then the city’s artists’ quarter. The street has since been renamed Foley Street in his honour. He is best known for his statues of Daniel O’Connell in Dublin and of Prince Albert for the Albert Memorial in London.
Foley’s father is a glassblower and his step-grandfather, Benjamin Schrowder, is a sculptor. At the age of thirteen he begins to study drawing and modelling at the Royal Dublin Society, where he takes several first-class prizes. In 1835 he is admitted as a student in the schools of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He exhibits there for the first time in 1839, and comes to fame in 1844 with his Youth at a Stream. Thereafter commissions provide a steady career for the rest of his life. In 1849 he is made an associate, and in 1858 a full member of the Royal Academy of Arts.
In 1851, inspired by the recently closed Great Exhibition, the Corporation of London votes a sum of £10,000 to be spent on sculpture to decorate the Egyptian Hall in the Mansion House. Foley is commissioned to make sculptures of Caractacus and Egeria.
In 1864 he is chosen to sculpt one of the four large stone groups, each representing a continent, at the corners of George Gilbert Scott‘s Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. His design for Asia is approved in December of that year. In 1868, he is also asked to make the bronze statue of Prince Albert himself, to be placed at the centre of the memorial, following the death of Carlo Marochetti, who had originally received the commission, but had struggled to produce an acceptable version.
Foley exhibits at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1839 and 1861. Further works are shown posthumously in 1875. His address is given in the catalogues as 57 George St., Euston Square, London until 1845, and 19 Osnaburgh Street from 1847.
John Henry Foley dies at Hampstead, north London on August 27, 1874, and is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral on September 4. He leaves his models to the Royal Dublin Society, where he had his early artistic education, and a large part of his property to the Artists’ Benevolent Fund. He does not see the Albert Memorial completed before his death. A statue of Foley himself, on the front of the Victoria and Albert Museum, depicts him as a rather gaunt figure with a moustache, wearing a floppy cap.
Following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, a number of Foley’s works are removed or destroyed without notice, because the persons portrayed are considered hostile to the process of Irish independence. They include those of Lord Carlisle, Lord Dunkellin (in Galway) and Field Marshal Gough in Phoenix Park. The statue of Lord Dunkellin is decapitated and dumped in the river as one of the first acts of the short-lived “Galway Soviet” of 1922.