William Hamo Thornycroft: 'Charity and Justice' (1888)
18 May – 21 August 2016
Exhibition in Gallery 4
Celebrating a new acquisition for the Leeds Sculpture Collection, exhibited in public for the first time since its creation in 1888.
William Hamo Thornycroft (1850-1925) was a key sculptor in the late nineteenth century and a leading figure in the New Sculpture Movement. In 1885 he was commissioned to make a memorial to Major General Charles George Gordon (1833-85) who, at the time of his death, was considered a British hero. The finished memorial on Victoria Embankment comprises a full-length bronze figure, accompanied by two relief panels.
The centrepiece of this exhibition is Leeds' acquisition of the full-size plaster model of the panel depicting the allegorical figures of Charity and Justice. Presented alongside a series of sketches and photographs showing Thornycroft's working process, this relief highlights a moment of revival in the history of nineteenth century sculpture.
The Gordon Memorial was a prestigious commission for Thornycroft, a sculptor still in his thirties who was yet to unveil a public monument. General Gordon had died in battle at the hands of the Mahdi's troops who had revolted against the British-backed regime in Sudan. For Imperial Britain, Gordon embodied Christian and patriotic self-sacrifice. When the monument to his memory was unveiled in 1888, it earned Thornycroft full membership of the Royal Academy.
The Memorial places the figure of Gordon on a stone pedestal nearly five and half metres tall. The two relief panels depicting the allegorical figures of Charity and Justice and Faith and Fortitude dominate the pedestal, acting as a narrative counterpoint to the figure of Gordon, animating the ideals he was thought to embody.
Thornycroft completed 'Charity and Justice' in 1888, using his wife Agatha as a model for Charity and his son Oliver for the child in her arms. The fact that Thornycroft chose to exhibit this plaster relief in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition indicates that he was pleased with this part of the larger work.
'Charity and Justice' was acquired for the Leeds Museums and Galleries Sculpture Collection in 2015, in memory of Dr Terry Friedman (1940–2013), former Principal Keeper of Leeds Art Gallery, with assistance from the Art Fund and Leeds Art Fund. The Henry Moore Institute manages the Leeds Sculpture Collections in a unique partnership that has built one of the strongest public collections of British sculpture in the UK.