James Havard Thomas

Lycidas

1902–8

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Bronze
Dimensions
Object: 1613 x 832 x 521 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Sir Michael and Lady Sadler through the Art Fund 1911
Reference
N02763

Display caption

Lycidas was the title of John Milton’s poem about the drowning of a young shepherd. Thomas shows him watching nymphs bathing in a stream. He modelled this life-size nude from his servant Antonio during the time he lived in southern Italy. The sculpture was sent to the Royal Academy for exhibition in 1905, but was rejected for appearing too ordinary and life-like. Following a public scandal, it was shown instead at the New Gallery. Lycidas was subsequently cast in bronze and presented to Tate by Michael Sadler, a well-known collector of modern art.

Gallery label, February 2016

Catalogue entry

N02763 LYCIDAS 1902–8

Inscr. ‘I. Havard Thomas. Sc. MCMII-VIII’ on front of base.
Bronze, 63 1/2×32 3/4×20 1/2 (161×83×52), including base, 2 3/4×20 1/4×16 1/4 (7×51·5×41·5).
Presented by Sir Michael and Lady Sadler through the National Art-Collections Fund 1911.
Coll: Purchased by Sir Michael Sadler from the artist 1910.
Exh: Franco-British Exhibition, 1908 (1272, repr. facing p.248); Carfax & Co., November 1909 (18).
Lit: A. S. Hartrick, A Painter's Pilgrimage through Fifty Years, Cambridge, 1939, pp.136–9; Norman Douglas, Late Harvest, 1946, p.59; Michael Sadleir, Michael Ernest Sadler, 1949, pp.224–5.
Repr: N.A.C.F. Report 1910, 1911, facing p.33 (detail); exh. cat., Open Air Exhibition of Sculpture, Battersea Park, May–September 1948, p.28.

According to the inscription the work was in progress for over six years, 1902–8. The wax model was first exhibited at the New Gallery, summer 1905 (533), after having been rejected by the R.A.; it was presented by Sir Michael and Lady Sadler to the City Art Gallery, Manchester, in 1910 (repr. N.A.C.F. Report 1910, facing p.30). The Leicester Galleries have a note, made in 1922, that there were three casts, one of which had already been sold; this was presumably N02763. Another bronze, dated 1905, was exhibited at the Leicester Galleries, 1922 (57), and the Beaux Arts Gallery, 1936 (3, repr. on cover), and is now in the Aberdeen Art Gallery.

The bronze was finished in the ancient Greek manner, i.e. by working on the surface with files, and also by inlaying where there were imperfections. The result is a close, polished texture which took three months to achieve.

The subject is conceived as that of a young shepherd who catches sight of nymphs in the stream below, and stands tense and eager on its brink. According to Norman Douglas (loc. cit.): ‘It was I who chose the name of the statue, Thomas having asked me to root out a well-sounding and classical one which, however, was to convey no definite suggestion; he wanted something vague and yet distinguished. I hit upon Lycidas because it belonged to three or four persons in antiquity, none of any great importance.’ Douglas also notes that the model for the statue was Havard Thomas's servant Antonio.

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