Skip to main content

Public Statues and Sculpture Association

John Adams Acton (also Adams-Acton) (1830–1910)

Sculptor. Born John Adams, he had added Acton to his surname by 1864 presumably to distinguish himself from two similarly named painters then showing at the RA. At first, he seems to have signed his works only in the unhyphenated form (e.g., Pharaoh’s Daughter, 1865, Russell-Cotes Museum, Bournemouth) but by 1869 at the latest was sometimes using a hyphen (e.g., bust of W.E. Gladstone, 1869, Reform Club). He trained under Timothy Butler then Matthew Noble before attending the RA Schools, 1853–58, where he was awarded silver medals in the antique school (1853) and life school (1854), a gold medal for a historical group in the round (1855), and the travelling studentship (1858) for his group Orestes and Pylades (engr. in ILN, 4 September 1858, p. 222). He went to Rome and stayed until 1865, studying under John Gibson, who admired his ability as a portraitist; among the many tourists Gibson referred to him for commissions was W.E. Gladstone who, in addition to sitting for a number of portrait busts and statues, became Adams Acton’s patron and a family friend. He is known to have sourced his own marble at the Carrara quarries, an example being for his 1870 statue of Gladstone for St George’s Hall, Liverpool. He married in 1875 and in 1876 he and his wife went to India, remaining for eight months, during which time he set up a busy studio in Bombay (Mumbai); he continued to receive commissions from India throughout his life. Important works include a second statue of Gladstone for Blackburn (1899), statues of Titus Salt for Bradford (1874) and Queen Victoria for Kingston, Jamaica, and the Bahamas; and monuments to Bishop Waldegrave for Carlisle Cathedral (1872), John and Charles Wesley for Westminster Abbey (1876), George Cruikshank for St Paul’s Cathedral (1881) and, his final work, Cardinal Manning for Westminster Cathedral (unveiled in the year of his death, 22 January 1910). Adams Acton was a regular exhibitor at the RA from 1854 to 1892.

Bibliography: T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 251–52; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Liverpool, Liverpool, 1997, pp. 32–33, 278–80; D.A. Cross, Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, Liverpool, 2017, pp. 9–10, 144; S.E. Fryer, ‘Acton, John Adams- (1830–1910)’, rev. A. MacPhee, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; ILN: (i) 21 May 1870, p. 529; (ii) 16 August 1873, pp. 153–54; (iii) 20 January 1877, p. 51; (iv) 10 September 1881, p. 257; (v) 5 November 1910, p. 692 (obit. with portrait photo); F. Lloyd et al, Public Sculpture of Outer South and West London, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 39, 168; Mapping Sculpture; A.M. Stirling, Victorian Sidelights: From the Papers of the late Mrs Adams-Acton, London 1954; Times, 24 January 1910, p. 17; T. Wyke, Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester, Liverpool, 2004, pp. 44–45, 102.

Terry Cavanagh November 2022

Adams Acton (also Adams-Acton), John

John Adams Acton (photo: public domain)