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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

John (Rattenbury) Skeaping (1901–1980)

Born in Woodford, Essex, he studied at Goldsmiths’ College and at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, before attending the Royal Academy Schools. He had already travelled in Italy when he won the Academy’s Rome Scholarship, which enabled him to return there. In Italy he met and married Barbara Hepworth, who encouraged him to renounce traditional working methods and classical subject matter, to concentrate on direct carving and non-literary content. His first major exhibition with Hepworth was at Alex Reid and Lefèvre Gallery in Glasgow in 1928. After he and Hepworth divorced in 1932, Skeaping turned his attention increasingly towards naturalistic animal art, for which he had always had a penchant. The year 1936 saw the publication of his popular manual Animal Drawing, and this was followed by other manuals. Now remarried to Morwenna Ward, Skeaping began to travel in southern France and Spain. After the Second World War, in which he served as an Official War Artist, he spent time in Mexico, studying indigenous artistic traditions. Architectural carving in the City of London from the 1950s, such as the zodiacal reliefs on the Sun Life Building in Cheapside, show a continued interest in direct carving. Between 1953 and 1959, Skeaping was Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art.

Bibliography (updated 2023): T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 342–43; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Liverpool, Liverpool, 1997, pp. 70–71; R. Cocke, Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk, Liverpool, 2013, pp. 236–38; G.T. Noszlopy, Public Sculpture of Warwickshire, Coventry & Solihull, Liverpool, 2003, p. 22; J. Skeaping, Drawn from Life. An Autobiography, London, 1977; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 7, 8, 9, 81–82.

Philip Ward-Jackson 2003

Skeaping, John (Rattenbury)

John Skeaping by Howard Coster, 1943, half-plate film negative (photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London)