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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

William Goscombe John (1860–1952)

Sculptor, born William John, in Canton, near Cardiff, the son of Thomas John, woodcarver to the Third Marquess of Bute. John began his training under his father, but in 1881 left Cardiff to work as a journeyman carver in Thomas Nicholls’ workshop in Lambeth. It was after his move to London that John added Goscombe (from his mother’s side of the family) to his name. During his five-year stay with Nicholls, John began evening classes at South London Technical School of Art, learning modelling under W.S. Frith. In 1884, on the recommendation of the head of the school, J.C.L. Sparkes, John gained entry to the Royal Academy (RA) Schools. In 1886, he left Nicholls to work in the studio of C.B. Birch, but in the following year won the Landseer Scholarship, allowing him to set up his own studio. In 1888, a commission for a portrait bust funded a visit to Italy and in 1889 he won the RA Gold Medal and Travelling Scholarship, visiting Sicily, North Africa, and Spain. He then rented a studio in Paris for a year, where he was strongly influenced by Rodin, John’s Morpheus, 1890, clearly owing much to Rodin’s The Age of Bronze, albeit suffused with a somnolent quality alien to Rodin but characteristic of British work by Lord Leighton and Alfred Gilbert. John continued to exhibit ideal bronzes throughout the 1890s and, in 1900, won a gold medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle for The ElfStudy of a Head, and Boy at Play. His public monuments include Sir Arthur Sullivan, 1902, Victoria Embankment Gardens, London; King’s Liverpool Regiment, 1905, Liverpool; Engine Room Heroes 1916, Liverpool; an equestrian statue of Viscount Wolseley, 1914–20, Horse Guards’ Parade, London; and the Port Sunlight War Memorial, 1921. John produced little architectural sculpture, his allegorical reliefs, c.1903, for Electra House, Moorgate, and the figures of Edward VII and Alexandra, 1906, for Aston Webb’s Cromwell Road façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum being rare examples. John also designed the regalia for the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1911, the year in which he was knighted. He was a member of the Art Workers’ Guild from 1891, was elected an Associate Royal Academician in 1899 and full Royal Academician in 1909, and was a member of the Society (later Royal Society) of British Sculptors from 1904. He was awarded the society’s gold medal in 1942 and continued to exhibit annually at the RA until 1948.

Bibliography: S. Beattie, The New Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1983; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 166, 168, 171, 172; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Liverpool, Liverpool, 1997, pp. 137–39, 140–43, 161–63, 177–80; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of South London, Liverpool, 2007, pp. 228, 229; R.L. Charles, ‘John, Sir William Goscombe (1860–1952)’, rev. F. Pearson, ODNB, (2004), 2014; R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Glasgow, Liverpool, 2002, pp. 20–21, 354–55; Mapping Sculpture; E. Morris and E. Roberts, Public Sculpture of Cheshire and Merseyside, Liverpool, 2012, pp. 149, 150–52, 153–60, 253–54; F. Pearson, Goscombe John at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, 1979; Royal Academy of Arts website; J. Seddon et al, Public Sculpture of Sussex, Liverpool, 2014, pp. 50–51, 51–52; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 271–75; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster. Volume 1, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 67–68, 344–46; T. Wyke, Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester, Liverpool, 2004, pp. 427–28.

Terry Cavanagh February 2023

John, William Goscombe

Simon Harmon Vedder, Sir William Goscombe John, 1901, oil on canvas, National Museum Wales
(photo: public domain)