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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Francis Bird (1667–1731)

Sculptor. Born in London, he was sent to Flanders when about 11 years of age, where he studied, according to George Vertue, under the sculptor ‘Cozins’. This was possibly the obscure Henry Cosyns. He then went on to Rome, where he stayed until 1689. On his return to London, he worked with Grinling Gibbons and C.G. Cibber, but then returned to Rome for a further nine months, studying with the French sculptor Pierre Legros. Immediately upon his return to London, Bird executed a statue of Henry VIII after Holbein, for St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Between 1705 and 1725 he worked on the sculptural decoration of St Paul’s, and on the multi-figure monument to Queen Anne in front of the cathedral’s western entrance (the original monument is now at Holmhurst, East Sussex). Between 1717 and 1721, he produced a number of portraits of founders and other statues for collegiate buildings in Oxford. In 1711 Bird became one of the directors of Sir Godfrey Kneller’s Academy on its foundation. Amongst the ‘electors’ of this Academy was the architect James Gibbs, who, like Bird, was a Catholic. They worked together on the huge tomb of John Holles, Duke of Newcastle (1723), in Westminster Abbey, whose design and execution proclaim the Roman training of its two authors. Nevertheless Bird seems to have been more at his ease in smaller monuments, like the one to Dr Grabe (d. 1711), also in Westminster Abbey, or the macabre wall monument to Mrs Benson (1710) in St Leonard’s Shoreditch. Bird produced little in the final years of his life, but in one late work, the monument to William Congreve (1729) in Westminster Abbey, he conspicuously rejected the current taste for Antiquity, and showed Congreve in modern costume, surrounded by the attributes of his art.

Bibliography (updated 2024): M. Craske, ‘Bird, Francis’, ODNB, (2004), 2008; F. Lloyd et al, Public Sculpture of Outer South and West London, Liverpool, 2011, pp. xv, xvii, 137, 158–59; R. Rendel, ‘Francis Bird, Sculptor 1667–1731’, Journal of Recusant History, II, no.4, 1972; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009, pp. 111–15; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. xxiii–xxiv, 349–50, 361–72, 374, 377, 378, 379; M. Whinney, Sculpture in Britain 1530–1830, rev. J. Physick, London, 1988, pp. 150–56.

Philip Ward-Jackson, 2003