Skip to main content

Public Statues and Sculpture Association

John Lawlor (1822–1901)

Sculptor born in Dublin, but living and working in London for most of his life. He trained in the Royal Dublin Society School and first came to notice in 1843 when his Cupid pressing Grapes into the Glass of Time was purchased by the Royal Irish Art Union. In the following year he exhibited for the first time at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) and in 1845 moved to London where he was employed by John Thomas modelling statues for the new Palace of Westminster. In 1847 Lawlor entered the Royal Academy Schools on Thomas’s recommendation. In 1851, he won a prize medal for his plaster statue, A Bather, at the Great Exhibition. On the evidence of this work Henry Weekes acknowledged Lawlor as a rising sculptor, praising his Bather as unsurpassed ‘by any in the whole Exhibition for the modelling of female flesh’. Prince Albert was so impressed that he commissioned a version in marble for Queen Victoria’s birthday present in 1855. Having won the Prince’s admiration, it was inevitable that Lawlor should be among those selected by Victoria to produce sculptures for the Albert Memorial; he was allocated one of the groups of the Industrial Arts, Engineering (1864–67). Lawlor received few commissions for public statues, perhaps the two most important being from his mother country, General Patrick Sarsfield for Limerick, 1881, and Bishop William Delany for St Mary’s Cathedral, Cork, 1889. His exhibited output comprised mostly ideal works and portrait busts. He showed frequently at the RHA (becoming an associate member in 1861) and at the British Institution and also, until 1879, at the Royal Academy, in which year he became involved in a dispute with the committee. Such an altercation seems to have been uncharacteristic of Lawlor, as he was generally well-liked, sociable and easy-going, this latter trait being suggested as the probable cause of his relatively low output and his failure to live up to his early promise.

Bibliography: T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. xxxv, 164–65, 416, 422, 424, 425–26, 428, 429, 431, 436; Mapping Sculpture; P. Murphy, Nineteenth-Century Irish Sculpture. Native Genius Reaffirmed, New Haven & London, 2010; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009.

Terry Cavanagh November 2022