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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834–1890)

Sculptor, born in Vienna, the son of Josef Daniel Böhm, a Hungarian medallist and director of the Imperial Mint. The young Boehm travelled frequently with his father, visiting England where he was much impressed with the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum and Italy where he admired Renaissance portrait statues. He spent three years in Paris, marrying an Englishwoman there in 1860 and converting to Protestantism. In 1862, he settled in London and in 1865 became naturalised. Among those attracted to his portrait busts and statuettes, and in particular his equine subjects, was Queen Victoria, who in 1869 appointed him sculptor tutor to Princess Louise and awarded him three commissions, including a colossal marble statue of herself enthroned for Windsor Castle. Boehm was elected Associate Royal Academician in 1878 and Royal Academician in 1882, was elected a member of the Academy of Florence in 1875 and of Rome in 1880, and was appointed baronet in 1889. Boehm’s realistic style, with its spirited modelling and anatomical accuracy, though popular with the public was dismissed by those critics who expected from sculptors ‘a finer, more idealised, more classicising touch’. Just as there is general agreement that Boehm’s statue of Thomas Carlyle, 1882, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, is among his finest works, so is there that his Duke of Wellington, 1889, Hyde Park Corner, is among his least successful, The Times, echoing the thoughts of many critics, admiring the quality of its portraiture but adjudging the work as a whole ‘a failure from the point of view of design, the four soldiers at the base being mere excrescences, and forming no part of the pedestal’. Other important commissions include John Bunyan, 1872–74, Bedford; Sir John Burgoyne, 1875–77, Waterloo Place; William Tyndale, 1881–84, Victoria Embankment Gardens; Sir Francis Drake, 1882–84, Plymouth; Charles Darwin, 1885, Natural History Museum, and Queen Victoria, 1887, Castle Hill, Windsor. Boehm lived and worked in Kensington for most of his residence in England: in 1864 he was at 28 Brompton Crescent; from 1865 to 1869, at 13 Sumner Place (this may have been a studio address); and by 1870, at 34 Onslow Square (the sculptor Carlo Marochetti’s former home). From 1873 until his death, he worked from a studio at The Avenue (Sydney Close), 76 Fulham Road, and from 1884, lived in a house designed for him at 25 Wetherby Gardens. Boehm died suddenly in his studio one evening, possibly from a heart attack, and was either with Princess Louise at the time of his death, or discovered by her immediately after, circumstances which led the contemporary press to conclude that the couple had been having an affair. Working at the time in an adjacent studio was Alfred Gilbert, a former assistant of Boehm’s, who would go on to complete many of Boehm’s unfinished works.

Bibliography: The Athenaeum, 20 December 1890, p. 861; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. xxv, xxvi, xxxiv, xxxv, xxxvi, xxxvii, 42, 49–50, 58, 82, 165, 175–78, 253–57, 261, 318–21, 367; R. Cocke, Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk, Liverpool, 2013, pp. 48–49, 110, 272; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 1, pp. 116–17, 155, 365–66; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Glasgow, Liverpool, 2002, pp. 96–100; D. Merritt and F. Greenacre, with K. Eustace, Public Sculpture of Bristol, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 66–69; E. Morris and E. Roberts, Public Sculpture of Cheshire and Merseyside, Liverpool, 2012, p. 144; G.T. Noszlopy, Public Sculpture of Warwickshire, Coventry & Solihull, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 215–16; Pall Mall Gazette, 13 December 1890, p. 4; Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: a chronicle, 1769-2018Saturday Review, 20 December 1890, p. 704; The Spectator, 20 December 1890, pp. 900–01; S. Stocker, ‘Boehm, Sir (Joseph) Edgar, baronet (1834–1890)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; The Times, 13 December 1890, p. 9; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 115–22; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 88–92, 323–26, 398–401, 407–08.

Terry Cavanagh November 2022

Boehm, Sir Joseph Edgar

Joseph Edgar Boehm, Ralph Winwood Robinson C. Whittingham & Co., c.1889, published 1892, platinum print (photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London)