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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Henry Bursill (c.1833–1871)

Sculptor born c.1833 in London. His father, George Bursill, a civil engineer, and his mother, Anne Wayte, never married, and in 1857 his father left his mother for a woman 30 years his junior. Of Henry Bursill’s 12 siblings, four are recorded in the 1851 census as ‘Artists in Gutta Percha’. One of them, George, is presumably the G.H. Bursill who is credited in the Great Exhibition of 1851 catalogue as joint inventor with Henry of the ‘infrangible wax’ from which Henry’s ‘Selections from the Passions by Le Brun’ were made. His other contribution to the exhibition was a pair of medallions portraying Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Bursill attended the Royal Academy (RA) Schools, 1854–63, winning three prizes: in 1855, a Silver Medal for a ‘Model from the Antique – Jason’; in 1861, a Silver Medal for a ‘Model from life’; and in 1863, a Gold Medal for ‘A Composition from the Deluge’ which he showed at the RA in 1864 (no. 948). He had first shown at the annual RA exhibitions in 1855, continuing fairly regularly until 1870, the year before his death, his contributions being mainly portraits, notable among them, two of the sculptor William Behnes (1861, no. 1039, and 1866, no. 987) and one of the architect John Gibson (1866, no. 1003). Bursill’s relationship with the sculptor is unknown but Gibson was the architect who employed him and F.M. Miller to carve parapet figures for his National Provincial Bank building in Bishopsgate, City of London (1864–65). Gibson was clearly satisfied with Bursill’s work as, when asked by William Haywood, Surveyor to the City, to recommend a sculptor who would provide attractively priced sculptural adornments for the Holborn Viaduct, then under construction, it was Bursill’s name he put forward. Bursill was responsible (1867–69) for the bronze statues of Commerce and Agriculture on the south parapet; the stone statues of Sir Thomas Gresham and Henry FitzAlwyn in niches on the staircase pavilions flanking the southern side of the viaduct; Sir William Walworth and Sir Hugh Myddelton, their opposite numbers on the northern side (destroyed along with their respective buildings during the Second World War, the pavilions were reconstructed in 2000 [north-eastern] and 2014 [north-western], both including free copies of Bursill’s lost originals); and the Atlantes supporting the second-floor balconies of the pavilions (again, only those on the southern side are original). In 1869, Bursill also provided a stone group representing Peace and Plenty to surmount Henry Hall’s Wiltshire & Dorset Bank, Salisbury. He may also be the same Henry Bursill who wrote a popular guide to a favourite Victorian pastime, Hand Shadows to be Thrown upon the Wall. A Series of Novel and Amusing Figures formed by the Hand (1859, and many subsequent editions). Bursill died of smallpox in 1871.

Bibliography: S. Bradley and N. Pevsner, London 1: The City of London (The Buildings of England), New Haven and London, (1997), 1999, p. 520; Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, 1851. Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue, 1851, vol. II, p. 823, no. 60; Illustrated London News, 6 November 1869, pp. 464–66; Mapping Sculpture; J. Orbach et al, Wiltshire (The Buildings of England), New Haven and London, 2021, p. 603; The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their Work from its Foundation in 1769 to 1904, Vol. 1: Abbayne to Carrington, 1905, p. 357; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 35–38, 207–08, 210–12, 213–14, 452–53.

Terry Cavanagh, May 2024