Henry Alfred Pegram

Ignis Fatuus


On display at Tate Britain

Henry Alfred Pegram 1862–1937
Displayed: 720 x 720 x 140 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889

Display caption

The title in Latin literally means ‘crazy fire’ but has come to refer to any venture that is deluded and foolhardy. The relief shows a woman sitting on a throne, her head supported by her arm in an attitude that mixes boredom, despair and resignation. She has been forsaken by the man in warrior’s garb who reaches up towards a group of extraordinary creatures who represent his fantasies and suggest their ultimate folly. Flames and smoke billow across the background. The sculpture was a development of an earlier roundel by Alfred Gilbert, whom Pegram greatly revered.

Gallery label, November 2016

Catalogue entry

N01756 IGNIS FATUUS 1889

Inscr. ‘Henry Pegram 1889’ b.r.
Bronze circular relief, 20 1/2×4 (52×10).
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1889.
Exh: R.A., 1889 (2156).
Repr: M. H. Spielmann, British Sculpture and Sculptors of To-Day, 1901, p.96.

The 1914 Tate Gallery catalogue describes the work thus: ‘A woman sits on a throne, her right hand supporting her head; she is forsaken, like the broken bow at his feet, by the man to her right in cloak and helmet, who stretches up his arms above her towards human heads with wings of birds and bats, chimeras of his ideal imaginations and desires.’ The Latin ‘Ignis Fatuus’, literally ‘Foolish Fire’, is here used in the sense of ‘will-o-the-wisp’ or ‘idle fancy’. There is another cast in the National Museum of Wales.

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

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