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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Sir William Ernest Reynolds-Stephens (1862–1943)

Sculptor, painter and designer — born in Detroit of English parents, who brought him back to the home country at an early age. He trained initially as an engineer, but then went on to attend the Royal Academy (RA) from 1884 to 1887. From the mid-1890s his identification with the aims of the arts and crafts movement was evident in his exhibits at the RA, and at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. Reynolds-Stephens used refined combinations of materials in his work, and was preoccupied with its decorative effect in an architectural setting. These concerns were most notably realised in the sculpture and ornament for Charles Harrison Townsend’s church of St Mary the Virgin, Great Warley in Essex (c.1903). The uses Reynolds-Stephens made of a symbolist formal vocabulary were sometimes sentimental and anecdotal. An example from the latter class is his astonishing group, The Royal Game, which was exhibited at the RA in 1906, was a Chantrey Bequest purchase in 1911, and is now in the collection of Tate Britain. This represents Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth I of England playing a game of chess with miniature galleons, an allusion to the Armada. His public sculpture includes Truth and Justice (1889), a bronze lunette over the entrance to the London and County (now NatWest) Bank, High Street, Croydon; the Saltburn War Memorial (1920), Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire; and the Charles Lamb Centenary Memorial (1935), St Sepulchre’s churchyard, Giltspur Street, City of London.  In his later life, Reynolds-Stephens belonged to a number of artistic societies and was an active campaigner on matters relating to patronage and copyright. He was awarded the Royal Society of British Sculptors’ Gold Medal for services to sculpture in 1928, and knighted in 1931.

Bibliography: S. Beattie, The New Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1983; A.S. Gray, Edwardian Architecture. A Biographical Dictionary, London, 1985, pp. 303–04; F. Lloyd et al, Public Sculpture of Outer South and West London, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 15–16; Mapping Sculpture; B. Read and J. Barnes (eds), Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture. Nature and Imagination in British Sculpture 1848–1914, London, 1991; M. Stocker, ‘Stephens, Sir William Ernest Reynolds-’, ODNB, (2004), 2011; The Times, 26 February 1943, p. 7 (obit.); P. Usherwood et al, Public Sculpture of North-East England, Liverpool, 2000, p. 305; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 146–47.

Philip Ward-Jackson, 2003; revised Terry Cavanagh, May 2024