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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

William Behnes (1795–1864)

Sculptor and painter. Born in London, the son of a piano maker from Hanover and his English wife. Part of his childhood was spent in Ireland, where he started attending drawing school. In 1813 he entered the Royal Academy. At this time, he was painting portraits on vellum. It was the example of the sculptor Peter Chenu which persuaded William Behnes, and his brother Henry, who later changed his name to Burlowe, to adopt the sculptor’s profession. In 1819, Behnes was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Arts for the invention of ‘an instrument for transferring points to marble’. He first exhibited at the RA in 1815. Behnes’s production consists largely of portrait busts and statues. His many church monuments are modest in scale, but occasionally include emotive figures, such as the mourning son, in the Monument to Mrs Botfield at Norton, Northants. In 1837, Behnes, who had sculpted Princess Victoria’s portrait in 1828, became her Sculptor in Ordinary, although this did not lead to further commissions. His statue of Sir Henry Havelock in Trafalgar Square (1861) is reputed to have been the first statue to have been based on a photographic portrait of the subject. Behnes’s extravagant habits reduced him to destitution in his final years. Despite the predominance of portraiture in his œuvre, some ideal and imaginary works by him are recorded, including a Lady Godiva, shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851, a Cupid with Two Doves (London International Exhibition of 1862), and a relief illustrating Shakespeare’s ‘Seven Ages of Man’.

Bibliography (updated 2023): T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. xxiii, xxxii, xxxiii, 220; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of South London, Liverpool, 2007, p. 60; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009; J. Seddon et al, Public Sculpture of Sussex, Liverpool, 2014, pp. 88–89; P. Usherwood et al, Public Sculpture of North-East England, Liverpool, 2000, p. 183; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. xiii–xiv, 322–23; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 297–99.

Philip Ward-Jackson 2011