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Saturday, August 12, 2017

John Gibson

The Marriage of Psyche and Celestial Love,
ca. 1844. John Gibson
It's disturbing for a painter to think about. But no matter how creative, how talented, how productive he or she may be, in today's world, once even a relatively famous painter is dead and buried for a few decades, their star fades. Often it happens with dismaying speed. The phenomena seems to be ruled by the old saying first uttered by the English economist, Herbert Spencer (not Charles Darwin): "Only the strong survive." Darwin liked Spencer's phraseology and subsequently used it, but insofar as art is concerned, of all the painters of the 20th-century only the names of the strongest, the top one-percent, are much remembered today--Picasso, Rockwell, Pollock, Monet, and possibly one or two others--have become household names. Yet the names and works of dozens of moviemakers, TV producers, and the performers they fostered, show no signs of fading into obscurity.
Sleeping Shepherd Boy, 1824, John Gibson
In large part, during the past couple centuries, the artist's chosen medium has played a greater role than Spencer's and Darwin's "survival of the fittest." For example, during the 19th-century, painters ruled. Quick, name me one famous sculptor from the 19th-century--any nationality, any era, any medium. You probably can't do it. Yet there were dozens of stone carvers who were every bit as talent and adept at their art as their painting counterparts. If you are especially astute you might have mentioned Rodin, or possibly Canova, Bartholdi, or Daniel Chester French, but only after some brain-wracking. Try this sometime, spend an hour or so in the sculpture section of a major museum, then ask yourself why you've never heard of most of the names you see next to exceptionally outstanding examples of the sculptor's art. For instance, have you ever heard of the British sculptor John Gibson? I didn't think so.
For the artist, worldly fame does not necessarily equate to lasting recognition. The world has a short memory.

Tinted Venus,  1854,
John Gibson
John Gibson, was born 1790, in Conwy, Wales. He died in Rome in 1866. The British Neoclassical sculptor's major claim to fame was that he tried to revive the ancient Greek practice of tinting marble sculptures. Quite apart from that, John Gibson was one of the most celebrated Victorian sculptors of his time. His Tinted Venus (right) became instantly famous (some would say, notorious) when he departed from the convention of white, uncolored marble and produced the paint-ed nude in 1854. The work was first shown at the International Exhibition of 1862, and is now in the collection of the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. The coloring is the merest suggestion of delicate tinting; the flesh has the faintest blush of warmth, lending an air of feminine softness to the figure. The eyes have the lightest touch of blue. The hair, plaited and arranged in the graceful and becoming classic fashion, is touched with a pale auburn tinge... the armlet and the apple held in the left hand are gilt, and the earrings are of gold.

Hylas Surprised by the Naiades, John Gibson
Gibson's aim was not realism. There was no attempt to simulate flesh tones. The work, however, still aroused a great deal of controversy when it was first shown. The Athenaeum magazine denounced it as "A naked impudent English woman," while the Sculptor's Journal thought it " of the most beautiful and elaborate figures undertaken in modern times." Apart from the Tinted Venus, others of his best-known works are the Eros at Piccadilly Circus, Hylas Surprised by the Naiades (above) and a Hylas and Psyche borne off by Zephyrs (below).

Hylas and Psyche borne off by Zephyrs, John Gibson
Narcissus, 1838,
John Gibson
Gibson became a Royal Academician of great repute and wealth. Upon his death, he left the Royal Academy a large be-quest which allowed the building of the Diploma Gallery in Burlington House. He also left a substantial number of sculp-tures, for which the Gibson Gallery was provided--now at the top of the Sacker Gallery extension. There can be seen plaster versions of Narcissus (left), The Meeting of Hero and Leander (below), and Sleeping Shepherd Boy.

The Meeting of Hero and
Leander, ca. 1842,
John Gibson
As a young man, John Gibson had enjoyed little in the way of formal training. Despite conflicting advice from two Royal Academy Instructors, the sculptor chose to abandon London for Rome. He arrived in Rome in 1817 to become an apprentice in the studio of Antonio Canova, Italy's leading sculptor. It was there that he met fellow apprentice, Richard James Wyatt who became a life-long friend. Establishing a studio together, the two would begin the working day with breakfast at Caffé Greco, the regular haunt of the British academy members. Gibson had no instruction in Rome, and only meager instruction at the Royal Academy. In Rome, for the first time, he became acquainted with the rules and technicalities of art. Canova introduced him into the Academy supported by Austria, where he became depressed as a sense of his deficiencies in common matters of practice became apparent. Gibson encountered young Italian artists already excelling in the drawing of the figure. However, his skill as a sculptor quickly showed itself. His first work in marble, Sleeping Shepherd Boy, was completed in 1824. Drawing his inspiration from Rome's plethora of antique sculptures, Gibson gradually perfected a distinct, Neoclassical style that subsequently made his name in both Rome and London.

Cupid pursuing Psyche, before 1843, John Gibson
In Rome, Gibson first put into practice his new theories about the ancient Greek practice of painting skin color and facial details onto carved marble figures. He introduced color onto a statue of Queen Victoria done for Liverpool in 1847, tinting only the diadem, sandals, and robe hem. It was a repetition of the 1833 Cupid Tormenting the Soul (bottom) but was, however, completely colored. Three years after the first, in 1850, Gibson's original Queen Victoria sculpture brought him the commission to create Queen Victoria with Justice and Clemency (below). John Gibson died in Rome in 1866 at the age of seventy-six.

Queen Victoria with Justice and Clemency, 1850, John Gibson
Cupid Tormenting the Soul, John Gibson.
Or maybe he's just texting.


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