Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Other Modern: Alfred Gilbert, Sculptor, and the Tomb of the Duke of Clarence

This is part of a series exploring the extraordinary variety of "modern" styles that emerged at the turn of the last century, and yet have been largely eclipsed by the art and architecture of "modernism" of the Bauhaus and Gropius mold. See the introduction here.

The work of the Edwardian sculptor Alfred Gilbert for the tomb of Albert Victor, the somewhat dimwitted royal Duke of Clarence and Avondale, represents a tantalizing glimpse into two very rare things: a true English species of Art Nouveau and also the application of the style to an ecclesiastical subject. The tomb stands in the Albert Memorial Chapel near St. George's at Windsor, and is surrounded by an extraordinary metalwork railing embellished with dozens of intricate, highly imaginative and yet highly symbolic figurines of saints. Gilbert made a number of versions of these figures, some with colored embellishments; several photos of these appear below. Top to bottom, they are St. Michael, Our Lady (note the wealth of roses), and a particularly exotic St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

Gilbert also produced the famous statue said to be of Eros in Picadilly Circus (actually the Greek mythological figure Anteros, also sometimes called "the angel of Christian Charity," and one of the first sculptures in aluminum), and produced several magnificent chains of office and numerous other sculptures. It is a shame that his work is not more widely known and respected, in view of his extraordinary ability to balance classical beauty with the restless energy of Art Nouveau.

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