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:
The sculpture remained in its position outside the gallery, and a distraught Fehr wrote again to Aitken:
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.
Frederic Leighton 1830-1896, exhibition catalogue, p.91, reproduced p.91
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N01749 PERSEUS RESCUING ANDROMEDA 1893
Inscr. ‘H.C. Fehr Sc. 1893’ on left of base.
Bronze, 108×102×86 (274·5×269×218·5), including base, diameter 47 1/2 (121).
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1894.
Exh: R.A., 1894 (1747).
Lit: M. H. Spielmann, British Sculpture and Sculptors of To-day, 1901, p.138, repr. p.140.
Repr: Art Journal, 1894, p.212; Herbert Maryon, Modern Sculpture, 1933, pl.155.
The plaster was exhibited at the R.A. in 1893 (1683) as ‘The Rescue of Andromeda’. It attracted considerable attention and with the encouragement of Lord Leighton was cast in bronze the following year.
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I