Henry C Fehr The Rescue of Andromeda 1893

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Artwork details

Artist
Henry C Fehr 1867–1940
Title
The Rescue of Andromeda
Date 1893
Medium Bronze
Dimensions Object: 2743 x 2591 x 2184 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1894
Reference
N01749

Summary

This sculpture illustrates the moment when, according to Greek legend, the hero Perseus (the son of Zeus and Danae) saves the beautiful woman Andromeda from being devoured by a sea monster which is plunging across the sea towards her. The Roman poet Ovid describes how Perseus continually strikes down blows until the creature belches out water mixed with purple blood. Fehr presents Perseus, wearing his distinctive headdress made of feathers and winged sandals, triumphantly holding a dagger in his right hand and the severed head of Medusa in his left. The head of the Gorgon, Medusa, had the power to turn anyone or anything into stone the instant they looked directly at it. Perseus stands on the wounded creature, whose wings blind Andromeda to the arrival of her rescuer. She is positioned awkwardly, the chains on her ankles preventing her escape.

This story of rescue and romance has been a popular subject for artists for centuries and in 1891, two years before this sculpture, it had already been chosen by Lord Leighton (1830-96) for his Academy picture. Fehr was a pupil at the Royal Academy Schools when Leighton became President, and would have been aware of his dramatic painting of Andromeda chained to a rock, the fiery breath of the monster rising upwards towards Perseus, who is bathed in golden light above. The scale and treatment of Fehr’s sculpture also relates it directly to the bronze by Benvenuto Cellini’s (1500-70) Perseus with the Head of Medusa in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. At the Royal Academy Fehr met a close friend of Leighton, Thomas Brock (1847-1922), and in 1893 he began working as an assistant in his studio. In the same year the plaster version of Fehr’s sculpture was exhibited at the Royal Academy. The critics did not give it much attention, preferring instead to eulogise the French painter Gérôme’s (1824-1904) statue Bellona which was also exhibited that year. However it is likely that it was with the encouragement of Lord Leighton that Fehr was able to cast the sculpture in bronze, and in 1894 The Rescue of Andromeda was bought under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest.

Fehr was friends at the Academy with many sculptors associated with what Edmund Gosse described in 1894 to be the ‘New Sculpture’. Attempting to revive British sculpture from its bland neo-classicism, Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934), Harry Bates (1850-99) and Hamo Thornycroft (1850-1925) were among the sculptors who can be associated with this short-lived movement. Although Fehr would have been aware of the first works of the New Sculptors, The Rescue of Andromeda lacks their vigour and naturalism; the smooth surface finish and expressionless faces of the hero and victim making it closer to the tradition of British sculpture passed down from John Henry Foley (1818-74) and others.

The sculpture was displayed with the other works of the Chantrey Collection inside the Tate Gallery until 1911 when it was moved to its current location on the right hand side of the Millbank entrance. In May of that year Fehr wrote angrily to the Director, Charles Aitken:

I write to draw your attention to the fact that it is very unjust to place my group ‘The Rescue of Andromeda’ where it is at present being quite out of place with its surroundings. It was never designed to be placed among and swamped by heavy masonry it is quite an injury to my. Many times I have been complimented by judges of Art – and among them personally by Lord Leighton, Alfred Gilbert and Sir John Millais and others; at present many have said it is a shame to have placed a statue of this description in its present position... (National Gallery archive)

The sculpture remained in its position outside the gallery, and a distraught Fehr wrote again to Aitken:

It seems to me that after all these years I am to be turned out of the inside collection due to the size of the statue and oweing to a wish to balance a group of a heavy description which mine is distinctly not - ; ... a large work does not detract from other smaller works as you can note in the Paris collections also others every year you see small works quite holding their own against large works in fact a good small work would stand out against any work of size Alfred Gilberts small works have stood out in the RA next to large works ... I must appeal to my brother artists to see justice done to me in this : I do not wish to call upon outside influence but on my brother sculptors surely they would not fail to see me righted in this and I am sure that no Director of an important collection would like to be judged for placing a work in a very bad way so that even the public let alone sculptors can see the bad position ... I dare not allow this to ruin my reputation without asking my fellow sculptors to do the right thing (National Gallery Archive).

Unfortunately there is little evidence of how, or if, Fehr’s ‘brother artists’ campaigned to move the sculpture back to its original position in the gallery and, despite Fehr’s frustration voiced in the letters above, the sculpture was not moved. Fehr did, however, continue to receive commissions, notably for a marble bust of John Ruskin and statues of James Watt and John Harrison for the City Square in Leeds.

Further reading:
Frederic Leighton 1830-1896, exhibition catalogue, p.91, reproduced p.91

Heather Birchall
September 2003

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