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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

William Robert Colton (1867–1921)

Sculptor, born in Paris, raised in Essex. He studied under W.S. Frith at South London Technical School of Art before entering the Royal Academy (RA) Schools in 1889 where his masters included J.E. Boehm and H.H. Armstead. An exhibitor at the RA throughout his life, he first showed there in the year he joined the Schools. After leaving, he spent some years in Paris. On his return, his work was noticed by the First Commissioner of HM Office of Works who commissioned a fountain for Hyde Park; following the deterioration of the original, a replica was installed in its place. In common with much of his ideal work, the fountain shows the influence of Alfred Gilbert and, in its mild eroticism, that of contemporary trends in French decorative sculpture. In 1896, Colton showed three compositions in enamel on silver with the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, which led, in the following year, to his election as a member of the Society (he withdrew in 1900). Colton’s first work exciting major interest was The Image Finder, shown at the RA in 1897 (plaster) and 1899 (bronze; a cast is in Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery). The critic M.H. Spielmann hailed it as ‘a really fine thing [deserving] to be included in the list of notable works produced by English sculptors’. Its subject was a lean-muscled, sinewy Indian, naked but for a loincloth, heaving a piece of sculpture from the ground. The public attending the 1899 showing at the RA would have been able to see, alongside it, Colton’s The Girdle, which, first shown in plaster only the previous year, demonstrated his equally fluent talent for portraying the female nude. The Girdle was purchased by the Chantrey Fund and is now in the Tate. In 1903 he was elected Associate Royal Academician (RA in 1919). Soon after came his first major public commission. In the 1905 RA he exhibited a plaster bust of the Maharajah of Mysore (marble in 1906) and in 1907, the marble statue intended for India. In 1906, his statue of King Edward VII was unveiled in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, and in 1908, his Worcestershire South African War Memorial. Two years later his Royal Artillery South African War Memorial was unveiled in The Mall, London. The centre part of this memorial was re-used as the crowning feature of the First World War memorial for Stafford (unveiled 1923). Colton was a member of the Art Workers’ Guild, 1894–1903, of the Royal Society of British Sculptors from 1905 (vice-president 1916; president 1920); and professor of sculpture at the RA Schools, 1907–11. His health was never robust and he died at the age of 53 at his home, 5 St Mary Abbots Place, Kensington, having failed to recover from a medical operation.

Bibliography: A.L. Baldry, ‘Modern British Sculptors: W. Robert Colton, A.R.A.’, The Studio, November 1915, pp. 93–99; S. Beattie, The New Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1983, p. 241; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 146–48, 308–10; Mapping Sculpture; G.T. Noszlopy and F. Waterhouse, Public Sculpture of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire, Liverpool, 2010, pp. 228–30; G.T. Noszlopy and F. Waterhouse, Public Sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country, Liverpool, 2005, pp. 128–29; Royal Academy of Arts website; M.H. Spielmann, ‘W.R. Colton, the new associate of the Royal Academy’, Magazine of Art, 1903, pp. 300–04; The Times, 14 November 1921, p. 14 (obit.); P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 136–39; W.T. Whitely, ‘W. Robert Colton, A.R.A.’, Art Journal, 1911, pp. 177–82.

Terry Cavanagh November 2022

Colton, William Robert

Unknown photographer, William Robert Colton, platinum print, 1900s, NPG x6331 (photo © National Portrait Gallery, London)