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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

John Bushnell (1636–1701)

Sculptor. The son of a plumber, he was apprenticed to the sculptor Thomas Burman, but journeyed abroad before the conclusion of his service. Bushnell travelled widely, in Spain, Flanders, France and Italy. Only one thing is known for sure about these wanderings, that he assisted the Flemish sculptor Justus le Court with the massive monument to Alvise Mocenigo in the church of S. Lazzaro dei Mendicanti in Venice. On his return to London he was commissioned in 1669 to produce a series of garden statues, now lost, for the country property of Sir Robert Gayer at Stoke Poges. In the following year he carved the four royal figures for the niches on Temple Bar. In 1670 he carved life-size stone figures of Charles I, Charles II and Sir Thomas Gresham for the Cornhill entrance to the Royal Exchange, which are now in the Old Bailey. These commissions exhibit the baroque flourish which Bushnell had acquired during his travelling days. This quality is also much in evidence in such church monuments as those to Viscount Mordaunt (1675) in All Saints Church, Fulham, and William and Jane Ashburnham (1675) in St James, Ashburnham, Sussex. Bushnell was an arrogant and quarrelsome character, whose eccentricity sometimes tipped over into madness. The tales which George Vertue has to tell of him, and an account of Vertue’s visit to his workshop after Bushnell’s death make entertaining reading. His sculpture, from the mid-1670s on, grew increasingly wayward and uneven in execution. His last work, the tomb of Thomas Thomond (1701) in the church at Great Billing in Northants is one of the more coherent products of Bushnell’s artistic dementia.

Bibliography (updated 2024): T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of South London, Liverpool, 2007, pp. 384–85; K. Esdaile, John Bushnell, Walpole Society, vols XV and XXI; K. Gibson, ‘The Trials of John Bushnell’, Sculpture Journal, vol. VI, 2001; K. Gibson, ‘Bushnell, John’, ODNB, (2004), 2008; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009, pp. 174–76; J. Seddon et al, Public Sculpture of Sussex, Liverpool, 2014, pp. 4–5, 146–47; Notebooks of George Vertue, I, II & IV, Walpole Society, vols XVIII, XX and xxiv; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 62, 67–70, 317, 318, 322; M. Whinney, Sculpture in Britain 1530–1830, rev. J. Physick, London, 1988, pp. 95–102.

Philip Ward-Jackson, 2003