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Richard Cockle Lucas: The 'Book Monument' and the Art of Self-Memory

14 Nov 2017 – 11 Feb 2018

The sculptor Richard Cockle Lucas (1800-83) worked for the architect John Nash and in John Flaxman’s studio before training at the Royal Academy Schools in the late 1820s. Small-scale portrait commissions were followed by larger works, including statues of Samuel Johnson at Lichfield (1838) and R.C. Hoare in Salisbury Cathedral (1841). During the 1840s, Lucas worked closely with The British Museum, copying antique sculpture and constructing two scale models of the Parthenon. By 1850, he had gained a reputation as the pre-eminent modeller in wax, producing numerous cameo portrait medallions. Lucas exhibited ivory carvings and facsimiles of antique bronzes at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

From 1854, Lucas built two Towers at Chilworth near Southampton that provided him with a home, studio, gallery, and also an observatory. This occasioned a major shift in his practice, as he began to place himself at the heart of his art. These endeavours were charged with a mixture of ideas about consciousness, selfhood and memory, and were also combined with an interest in the occult.

Over the next three decades, Lucas made a series of fifty albums and scrapbooks that he termed his ‘book monument’. These books were a bricolage amassed from the fullest range of traces and fragments of his life and work: etchings, sketches, nature prints, thoughts and writings, assorted personalia, and also – through the window of photography – sculpture, architecture, and his own body. In this way, Lucas’ entire creative output was brought together and re-presented in seemingly random juxtapositions. The monumental books were repositories designed, said Lucas, to ‘fall into hands who will protect them: there being much of my spirit within’.

Perhaps the most striking components of these books are Lucas’ performative self-portrait photographs. In 1863, following the completion of his written memoirs, Lucas developed a complementary photographic project that he described similarly as an encapsulation of his ‘works and phases’. Collaborating with studio photographers, Lucas set out to capture ‘a hundred of his various aspects’ in staged photographs of himself performing different characters, roles, and actions, such as ‘The Spirit of Intellect’, ‘The Hopeful Lover’, and ‘The Pilgrim of Art’. These were then often displayed formally in standard photograph albums. Having recently engaged in autobiographical writing, Lucas wished concurrently to explode his identity and reveal the duplicity and plurality of the self.

Despite Lucas’ programme of self-memory, it is unfortunate that he has often been recalled through the lens of an art-world controversy. In 1910, his name was linked to the wax bust of Flora acquired as a work of Leonardo da Vinci by the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin.

This display has been developed by Dr Harry Willis Fleming (Henry Moore Institute Research Fellow, 2012, PhD Middlesex University 2017). The Henry Moore Institute Archive of Sculptors’ Papers holds a further album of images compiled by Lucas including drawings and engravings of Westminster Abbey and illustrations to the Book of Ruth.