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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

John Gibson (1790–1866)

Sculptor. Born in Wales, while still a child he moved with his family to Liverpool. In about 1806, while apprenticed to a firm of cabinet-makers, he met the sculptor F.A. Legé who brought him to the notice of his employers, the marble masons Samuel and Thomas Franceys, who paid to cancel Gibson’s existing indentures so that he might take an apprenticeship with them. His work there attracted the attention of the Liverpool banker, politician and art collector, William Roscoe, who supplied him with commissions, contacts, and access to his collection of antique sculpture. In 1817 Gibson moved to London, armed with letters of introduction from Roscoe. That same year, however, he left for Rome, his trip funded by a subscription raised by Roscoe among those who saw potential in the young man’s work. In Rome Gibson trained firstly under Canova and subsequently (after Canova’s death in 1822) under Thorvaldsen, remaining in Rome for the rest of his life, expanding his studio and the number of his assistants to cope with the increasing numbers of commissions from the many wealthy English visitors to Rome. The first of his rare visits to England, in 1844, was to inspect the placing of his marble statue of William Huskisson (his second, the first having been installed in a mausoleum in St James’s Cemetery, Liverpool). The position set aside for it in the custom house in Liverpool proving inadequately lit and cramped, Mrs Huskisson paid for a bronze cast to be erected outside the building, and the marble statue instead went to Lloyd’s for their new Royal Exchange building in London (it was relocated to Pimlico Gardens in 1915). Gibson’s most prestigious patron was Queen Victoria, whose statue (Royal Academy 1847) was among the first upon which he introduced touches of colour, in accordance with ancient Greek practice. The culmination of his experiments in polychromy is the so-called Tinted Venus, 1851–56 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool). Despite the classical antique precedent, the result was deemed by some as an unsettling clash with the formal idealization of the figure and by others as merely vulgar. Gibson exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1816–64. The recipient of numerous international awards and honours, he was elected an Associate Royal Academician in 1833 and full RA in 1836, and on his death, he left to the Academy his fortune and the contents of his studio, including many fine drawings and models.

Bibliography: T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. xx, xxiii, 458–61; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Liverpool, Liverpool, 1997, pp. 150–53, 251–52; D.A. Cross, Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, Liverpool, 2017, p. 92; Lady Eastlake (ed.), Life of John Gibson RA, London, 1870; A. Frasca-Rath and A. Wickham, John Gibson. A British Sculptor in Rome, London, 2016; M. Greenwood, ‘Gibson, John (1790–1866)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Glasgow, Liverpool, 2002, pp. 415–16; T. Matthews, The Biography of John Gibson, R.A., Sculptor, Rome, London, 1911; E. Morris and E. Roberts, Public Sculpture of Cheshire and Merseyside, Liverpool, 2012, pp. 105–07, 195–97; Royal Academy of Arts website; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 198, 387.

Terry Cavanagh November 2022

Gibson, John

Margaret Sarah Carpenter, John Gibson, 1857, oil on canvas (photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London)