Sir William Goscombe John

A Boy at Play


In Tate Britain

Sir William Goscombe John 1860–1952
Bronze on stone base
Object: 1415 x 850 x1110 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1896

Display caption

A young boy is here playing a game of knuckles. The level of poise and skill required is demonstrated by his naked figure which is perfectly balanced to complete the task. The ideal body type, as created by Goscombe John, became increasingly important during the late 19th century as the debilitating effects of malnourishment and tuberculosis became a cause for concern. Exercise was regarded as a vital preventative measure. This is one of a number of sculptures Goscombe John created on the theme.

Gallery label, February 2016

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Catalogue entry

N01755 A BOY AT PLAY c. 1895
Inscr. ‘W. Goscombe John’ on back of base.
Bronze, 51 1/4×31 1/4×41 3/4 (130×79·5×106), on a Verdi di Prato marble base, 2 1/4×16×43 3/4 (5·5×40·5×111).
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1896.
Exh: R.A., 1896 (1811).
Lit: M. H. Spielmann, British Sculpture and Sculptors of To-day, 1901, p.130, repr. p.131 (the plaster).
Repr: Royal Academy Pictures, 1895, p.195 (the plaster, wrongly described as a marble); Tate Gallery Illustrations, 1928, pl.120.

First exhibited in plaster at the R.A. in 1895 (1711).

The boy balancing himself on his left foot reaches forward with his right to touch a knuckle-bone standing on end in front of him; he must recover his position behind the line which he toes without putting his foot to the ground.

Another bronze cast is in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, and there are smaller bronze versions at Manchester and Newport (Mon.).

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


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