Sculptor, etcher and designer for the industrial arts. Born in Suffolk, Bell went to London at the age of 16, and enrolled in Henry Sass’s Drawing School in Soho. In 1829 he moved on to the Sculpture School of the Royal Academy. After completing his training, he exhibited at the Royal Academy and at the Society of Arts, and became a founder member of the Etching Club in 1838. In 1839 he was an unsuccessful entrant for the Nelson Memorial competition. It was, however, with his ideal works that Bell first attracted the attention of critics and the public. His figure of Dorothea, inspired by an episode in Don Quixote, shown at the Royal Academy in 1839, proved especially popular. A marble version was commissioned by Lord Lansdowne, and like many of Bell’s compositions, it was later adapted by the Minton factory as a Parian Ware statuette. Bell’s Eagle Slayer, a poetic conception of his own, was ideal sculpture of a more heroic and morally elevated kind. It was shown first at the Royal Academy in 1837, but often thereafter in a variety of materials. As a public statuary, Bell was employed first at the Sydenham Crystal Palace in 1853, and in the following year he produced two historical figures for St Stephen’s Hall, Westminster. He adopted a sombre, heroic style and symmetrical composition for the Wellington Memorial in the Guildhall (1856), and again in 1860 for the Guards Crimean War Memorial in Waterloo Place. Bell’s proposal of a kneeling figure of the Consort in medieval armour for the Albert Memorial was not adopted, but he was commissioned to produce the marble group of America for the northwest corner of the memorial. Positioned on the memorial in 1870, this group, with its five symbolic figures around a charging bison, was described as ‘a really great work’ by The Times, at the unveiling in 1872. In 1847, Bell had cooperated with Henry Cole in his attempt to introduce artistic quality into domestic utensils, the so-called Felix Summerly’s Art Manufactures, and he went on to provide many models for industrial reproduction in a variety of materials. The Coalbrookdale Ironworks and Minton’s were his most frequent collaborators. Bell was a poet and art theorist, a frequent contributor to Building News and the Journal of the Society of Arts.
Bibliography: R. Barnes, John Bell. The Sculptor’s Life and Works, Kirstead, Norfolk, 1999; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. xviii, 224, 225, 323, 353–54, 404–05, 424–25, 428, 429, 430, 431, 436, 481; R. Cocke, Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk, Liverpool, 2013, pp. 42–43; E. Morris and E. Roberts, Public Sculpture of Cheshire and Merseyside, Liverpool, 2012, pp. 226–28, 241–42; G.T. Noszlopy and F. Waterhouse, Public Sculpture of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire, Liverpool, 2010, pp. 68–69; B. Read, Victorian Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1982; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 177–81; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 174–75, 388–90; D. White and E. Norman, Public Sculpture of Sheffield and South Yorkshire, Liverpool, 2015, pp. 124–26, 179–80.
Philip Ward-Jackson 2011
John Bell, drawing by his sister, Rose Bell, 14 June 1858 (copied by R.H.B.)