Sir Alfred Gilbert



Not on display

Sir Alfred Gilbert 1854–1934
Object: 495 × 210 × 159 mm
Bequeathed by Frederick Harrison 1936

Display caption

Icarus and his father Daedulus escaped from prison from the Greek island of Crete by using pairs of wings which they made from feathers and wax. Icarus, however, flew too near to the sun, the wax melted and he fell into the sea and drowned. Gilbert stated that he chose the theme because, ‘It flashed across me that I was very ambitious: why not Icarus with his desire for flight?’ The subject represented the risk of his own ambition. The vibrant surface and themes of death and the recklessness of youth, lend Gilbert’s nude a dimension of sensual eroticism.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry

N04827 ICARUS 1882–4
Inscr. ‘AG’ in circle on back, near base.
Bronze, 19 1/2×8 1/4×6 1/4 (49·5×21×16), on dark green marble base, 5 1/4×6 1/2×6 1/2 (13·5×16×16).
Bequeathed by Frederick Harrison 1936.
Coll: Frederick Harrison, died 1926.
Lit: Monkhouse in Magazine of Art, 1889, pp.37–40; Gazette des Beaux-Arts, II, 1889, p.404, repr. p.395; Hatton, 1903, p.10; McAllister, 1929, pp.4, 62–6, 70, repr.; Bury, 1952, pp.41–2, 82, repr. pl.8.

A reduced version of the original figure (40 in. high) commissioned by Sir Frederic Leighton when he first met Gilbert in Perugia, probably in 1882. The subject was left to the artist, who spent two years on the figure and cast it himself in Rome by the cire-perdue process. He gave the following account of the symbolism (Hatton, 1903.): ‘Icarus, prepared to fly, sees at his feet before throwing himself from the rock, a bird with its natural means of flight strangled by a crawling thing, a snake! - a presage of our life’. On the strength of this work, which was exhibited at the R.A. in 1884 (1855), Gilbert was elected an A.R.A. It is now in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, where there is also a wax model for the head of a reduced version, 2 3/4 in. high. This last came from the artist's own collection, which indicates that Gilbert himself designed a figure on this scale. In fact, this probably was the version exhibited at the Paris International Exhibition, 1889. Another cast on the same scale was exhibited at the Fine Art Society, 1935.

See N04829 for a connexion between the artist and the donor of N04827-N04829, Frederick Harrison.

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


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