James Havard Thomas



James Havard Thomas 1854–1921
Object: 1613 × 832 × 521 mm
Presented by Sir Michael and Lady Sadler through the Art Fund 1911

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Havard Thomas spent most of his career in Italy, researching the techniques of ancient Greek sculpture. His unconventional approach and methods placed him outside the Victorian art world. In 1905, he caused a scandal when his model for Lycidas was rejected from the annual Royal Academy exhibition. Its realistic character shocked viewers who were accustomed to idealised figures and heroic poses. Lycidas has been connected to John Milton’s poem. The title, however, was chosen by a friend of the artist, as ‘something vague and yet distinguished’.

Gallery label, October 2020

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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

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