seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Robert Gibbings, Wood Engraver & Sculptor

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Robert John Gibbings, Irish artist and author most noted for his work as a wood engraver and sculptor, and for his books on travel and natural history, is born into a middle-class family in Cork, County Cork on March 23, 1889. Along with Noel Rooke he is one of the founder members of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1920, and is a major influence in the revival of wood engraving in the twentieth century.

Gibbings’ father, the Reverend Edward Gibbings, is a Church of Ireland minister. His mother, Caroline, is the daughter of Robert Day, Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and president of The Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. He grows up in the town of Kinsale where his father is the rector of St. Multose Church.

Gibbings studies medicine for three years at University College Cork before deciding to persuade his parents to allow him to take up art. He studies under the painter Harry Scully in Cork and later at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Central School of Art and Design.

During World War I Gibbings serves in the Royal Munster Fusiliers and is wounded at Gallipoli before eventually being invalided out of the army in 1918. He then resumes his studies in London.

Gibbings is very much at the centre of developments in wood engraving. He is a founder member and leading light of the Society of Wood Engravers, which he sets up with Noel Rooke in 1920. In 1922 he contributes two wood engravings, “Clear Waters” and “Hamrun,” to Contemporary English Woodcuts, an anthology of wood engravings produced by Thomas Balston, a director at Gerald Duckworth & Company and an enthusiast for the new style of wood engravings. In 1923 he receives a commission for a set of wood engravings for The Lives of Gallant Ladies for the Golden Cockerel Press, his most important commission to date at 100 guineas.

Gibbings is working on the wood engravings The Lives of Gallant Ladies when Hal Taylor, the owner of the press, becomes very ill with tuberculosis and has to put it up for sale. He seeks a loan from a friend, Hubert Pike, a director of Bentley Motors, to buy the press. He takes over in February 1924 and owns and runs the press until 1933.

Gibbings illustrates numerous books on travel and natural history, including Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, and writes a series of bestselling river books, notably Sweet Thames Run Softly. He does a huge amount to popularise the subject of natural history, travelling extensively through Polynesia, Bermuda and the Red Sea to gather inspiration for his work.

Gibbings is the first man to draw underwater, the illustrations filling his Penguin classic Blue Angels and Whales. He is one of the first natural history presenters on the BBC.

In September 1955 Gibbings and his wife, Patience, purchase Footbridge Cottage, a tiny beehive of a cottage in Gibbings’s words, in Long Wittenham on the banks of the River Thames. Life there suits him, and he has a period of tranquility that he had not known previously. They live there until he dies of cancer in an Oxford hospital on January 19, 1958. He is buried in the churchyard at Long Wittenham. The grave is marked by a simple headstone featuring his device of a crossed quill and graver, carved by Michael Black, a young sculptor who is a friend of Gibbings.


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Death of Sculptor John Henry Foley

john-henry-foleyJohn Henry Foley, Irish sculptor often referred to as J. H. Foley, dies in London on August 27, 1874. He is best known for his statues of Daniel O’Connell in Dublin and of Prince Albert for the Albert Memorial in London.

Foley is born 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. His 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 Foley 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.

Foley’s pupil Thomas Brock brings several of Foley’s works to completion after his death, including his statue of Prince Albert for the Albert Memorial. Foley’s articled pupil and later studio assistant Francis John Williamson becomes a successful sculptor in his own right, reputed to have been Queen Victoria‘s favourite. Other pupils and assistants are Charles Bell Birch, Samuel Ferris Lynn, Charles Lawes, and Richard Belt.

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 George Howard, 7th Earl of Carlisle, Ulick de Burgh, 1st Marquess of Clanricarde in Galway and Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough in the Phoenix Park. The statue of Ulick de Burgh is decapitated and dumped in the river as one of the first acts of the short-lived “Galway Soviet” of 1922.