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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

George Nelson (1810–1888)

Sculptor. Born in Carlisle, perhaps the son of Francis Nelson, he was encouraged as a sculptor by his relative Thomas Nelson, of the Carlisle Marble Works, who carved details on the Lowther Mausoleum, St Michael’s churchyard, Westmorland (1857). He may also have received tuition from David Dunbar I (1793–1866) at the modelling classes at Carlisle Academy of Arts. At an unknown date, Nelson became an assistant to the sculptor Musgrave Lewthwaite Watson (1804–1847); as the latter is known to have attended Dunbar’s classes it is possible that this is where they met. Nelson exhibited at Carlisle Academy in 1833 and then relocated, as had Watson before him, to London. Here he found employment in a terracotta works in Lambeth and attended the Royal Academy Schools where he won silver medals for a ‘Model’ (1837) and a ‘Figure in the round from life’ (1841). When Watson died of heart disease at the age of 43, Nelson executed in marble several of his friend’s works which were only advanced as far as the clay, including the Memorial to the Officers and Men of the 50th Regiment for Canterbury Cathedral, the high relief Victory from which Nelson exhibited under his own name at the Great Exhibition of 1851; the group of Lords Eldon and Stowell (University College, Oxford); and the seated John Flaxman (University College London, library; signed ‘George Nelson from a sketch by M.L. Watson’). Nelson exhibited 14 works at the Royal Academy between 1837 and 1869, including, in 1847 (no 1331) his best known (but now lost) statue, Musidora, a subject from James Thompson’s The Seasons. Although he was resident in London from at least 1837, he retained contacts with his home county, making occasional visits to Carlisle, where he exhibited at the Athenaeum in 1846 and 1850. The majority of his surviving independent works are church monuments, many in Cumbria, including those to Cara Steel (c.1850), Grinsdale; Thomas Sheffield (1856), Carlisle Cathedral; John Dixon of Knells (d. 1857), Houghton; Musgrave Lewthwaite Watson, Carlisle Cathedral (RA 1859, no 1378; plaster, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle); and Isaac Sheffield (1872), St Michael’s, Dalston. In the Church of St John the Evangelist, Dent (also in Cumbria), is a carved seated angel signed ‘G. Nelson, Sculp’. Curiously, this is a monument not only to the sculptor himself but also to Anne, the widow of John Blackmore (d. 1888) and to Anne’s father, the sculptor Paul Nixon (or Nixson) (1768–1850), suggesting an as yet unknown close connection between Nelson and his older contemporary.

Bibliography: The Builder, 29 January 1859, p. 82 (brief report on memorial to M.L. Watson); D.A. Cross, Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, Liverpool, 2017, pp. 140, 143–44; Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, 1851. Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue [1851], vol II, p. 844; M. Hall, The Artists of Cumbria: An Illustrated Dictionary, Newcastle, 1979, pp. 57–59; Historic England – Church of St John The Evangelist; M. Hyde and N. Pevsner, Cumbria: Cumberland, Westmorland and Furness (The Buildings of England), New Haven and London, 2010, p. 752; Illustrated London News, 11 October 1851, p. 465 (engr. of ‘Victory’ figure); Mapping Sculpture; Denis Perriam, Cumberland News, 21 February 1997; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009, pp. 872–73.

David A. Cross, 2017; updated, Terry Cavanagh, March 2024