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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Grinling Gibbons (1648–1721)

Sculptor and woodcarver. Born in Rotterdam, his parents were English, but he was brought up as a Dutchman and always spoke and wrote broken English. His father James Gibbons was a member of the Drapers’ Company, and he was admitted to the Company by patrimony in 1672. On his arrival in England around 1667, he is said to have spent time in York before settling in London. In 1671 he was ‘discovered’ by the diarist John Evelyn, in a house in Deptford, working on a wood relief of the Crucifixion (probably the one now at Dunham Massey, Cheshire), after a painting by Tintoretto. Evelyn’s attempt to promote Gibbons at court failed, and his introduction of the carver to Sir Christopher Wren did not lead to immediate employment. However, Gibbons found advancement and work at Windsor Castle through an introduction by the painter Peter Lely to Hugh May, Comptroller of the Royal Works. This initiated his career as an immensely prolific decorative wood-carver. Gibbons’s work as a statuary seems to have begun with a commission, in 1678, to carve the decorative panels on the pedestal of the equestrian statue of Charles II at Windsor. It is possible that he also modelled the statue itself. Gibbons then produced further standing figures of Charles, for the Royal Exchange (marble, 1683–84), and for the Royal Hospital Chelsea (bronze, c.1686), and of James II for Whitehall Palace (bronze, 1687–88, now in front of the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square). Between 1679 and 1686 Gibbons worked with the Flemish sculptor, Arnold Quellin. Quellin was a more fluent designer than Gibbons, and his skilled hand may be detected in the angels from the altar of Whitehall Palace Chapel, on which they worked together in 1686 (marble, now in the parish church at Burnham, Somerset). Some of the church monuments executed by Gibbons himself are, nevertheless, extremely grand decorative conceptions. Fine examples are the tomb of Viscount Campden at Exton, Rutland (1684), and that of the First Duke of Beaufort (d. 1699) at Great Badminton, Gloucs. Gibbons’s work with Sir Christopher Wren included the reredos (1684) and marble font for St James’s Piccadilly, and culminated with the carvings for the choir of St Paul’s (1695–97). In 1693, Gibbons was appointed Master Sculptor and Carver to the Crown.

Bibliography: G. Beard, The Work of Grinling Gibbons, London, 1989; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 84–87; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of South London, Liverpool, 2007, pp. 43–46; D. Esterly, Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving, London, (1998), 2020; K. Gibson, ‘The emergence of Grinling Gibbons as a “Statuary”’, Apollo, vol. CL, no 451, September 1999, pp. 21–29; F. Lloyd et al, Public Sculpture of Outer South and West London, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 229, 230, 227, 233; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 1, pp. 326–38; P. Rabbitts, Grinling Gibbons, Master Carver, London 2021; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, p. 372; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 242, 291–93, 410–12.

Philip Ward-Jackson 2023

Gibbons, Grinling

Copy after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Grinling Gibbons, oil on canvas, based on a work of c.1690, NPG 2925 (photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London). Gibbons is portrayed applying compasses to a cast of a bust from Bernini’s figure of Proserpina (from his group, Pluto Abducting Proserpina in the Villa Borghese, Rome).