Sir Alfred Gilbert

Perseus Arming

1881–3

On display at Tate Britain

Artist
Sir Alfred Gilbert 1854–1934
Medium
Bronze
Dimensions
Object: 368 x 178 x 121 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Frederick Harrison 1936
Reference
N04828

Display caption

The deeds of the Greek hero Perseus included slaying the snake-haired Gorgon, Medusa, and rescuing the beautiful maiden Andromeda from a sea-monster. Gilbert’s statue shows Perseus preparing himself for action. The artist wrote: ‘at that time my whole thoughts were of my artistic equipment for the future [so] I conceived the idea that Perseus, before becoming a hero, was a mere mortal and that he had to look to his equipment’. The work was essentially an allegory of Gilbert’s sculptural ambition.

Gallery label, November 2016

Catalogue entry

N04828 PERSEUS ARMING 1881–3
 
Not inscribed.
Bronze, 14 1/2×7×4 3/4 (37×18×12), including base, 1 1/4 (3·5).
Bequeathed by Frederick Harrison 1936.
Coll: Frederick Harrison, died 1926.
Lit: Monkhouse in Magazine of Art, 1889, pp.37–9; Gazette des Beaux-Arts, II, 1889, p.404; M. H. Spielmann, British Sculpture and Sculptors of To-day, 1901, p.76; Hatton, 1903, p.10; McAllister, 1929, pp.55–7; Bury, 1952, pp.8, 41–2, 79, repr. pl.2.

A reduced version of the first work undertaken by Gilbert after his visit to Florence, which was commissioned in Rome in 1881 by Sir Henry Doulton (see N04586). The artist gives the following account of his aims: ‘After seeing the wonderful and heroic statue by Cellini, amazed as I was by that great work, it still left me somewhat cold insomuch that it failed to touch my human sympathies. As at that time my whole thoughts were of my artistic equipment for the future, I conceived the idea that Perseus, before becoming a hero was a mere mortal, and that he had to look to his equipment. That is a presage of my life and work at that time and I think the wing still ill-fits me, the sword is blunt and the armour dull as my own brain’ (Hatton, loc. cit.).

The larger version (29 in.) received an Honourable Mention in the Paris Salon of 1883 and was acquired by J. P. Heseltine (repr. McAllister, 1929, pl.4). This gave great encouragement to the artist. A smaller version also exists.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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