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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Edward Bowring Stephens (1815–1882)

Sculptor born in Exeter, Devon, the son of James Stephens, a stonemason. He trained first under the landscape painter John Gendall who became his mentor. It was at Gendall’s urging that James Stephens allowed his son to move to London in 1835 to train in the studio of the sculptor Edward Hodges Baily. On 7 December 1836 Stephens entered the Royal Academy (RA) Schools and in the following year won a silver medal from the Society of Arts for an original model of Ajax Defying the Gods. In 1839 his father paid for him to study in Italy (again at Gendall’s urging). Following his return from Rome towards the end of 1841, Stephens spent a year in Exeter, working on portrait commissions, amongst which was one from Sir John Yarde-Buller for a marble statue of John, Baron Rolle, for his Devon residence, Lupton House. Stephens returned to the RA Schools in 1842 and in 1843 was awarded a gold medal for a relief entitled The Battle of the Centaurs and Lapithae. He was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy, 1838–81 (with a posthumous showing in 1883), his sculptures encompassing ideal works, genre subjects and portraits. He also exhibited at the British Institution, 1838–58. In 1845–46 he was commissioned to carve reliefs and a chimneypiece for the summer pavilion in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. He submitted five sculptures to the Great Exhibition of 1851, one of which, The Deer Stalker, in plaster, received an Honourable Mention. Considered by Stephens’ contemporaries to be his finest work, it appeared at the RA both in marble (1873) and in bronze (1876), this latter having been purchased by public subscription for Exeter, where it was erected in 1878 at Bedford Circus (relocated two years later to Northernhay Gardens). Although permanently resident in London from 1842, Stephens never lost touch with his hometown and, in his speech at a banquet held on the occasion of the presentation of The Deer Stalker, he credited local benefactors with establishing his career, notably William, 10th Earl of Devon, and Sir Thomas Dyke Acland. Stephens’ bust of the former is in Powderham Castle (exhib. RA 1844) and his statue of the latter in Northernhay Gardens (statue unveiled 1861; model exhib. RA 1862). Two more statues by Stephens in Northernhay Gardens are of John Dinham (unveiled 1864; model exhib. RA 1866) and William Courtenay, 11th Earl of Devon (exhib. RA 1880; unveiled October 1880), while his statue of Hugh, 2nd Earl Fortescue (unveiled 1863; model exhib. RA 1863) is in Castle Yard, Exeter. In 1865 he also carved two figures for the west front of Exeter Cathedral – William the Conqueror and the Apostle, James the Less – and in 1870 donated a statue of Albert, Prince Consort (1868) to the recently opened Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter. Beyond Exeter his public statues include Joseph Priestly for Oxford University Museum (1860); Francis, 7th Duke of Bedford, for the abbey precincts, Tavistock, Devon (1864); Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Wren and Sir Joshua Reynolds for the façade of Sydney Smirke’s new accommodation for the Royal Academy, Burlington House, London (1873); Sir John Cordy Burrows for the grounds of Brighton Pavilion (1878; relocated to Steine Gardens in 1984); and Alfred Rooker for Guildhall Square, Plymouth (1878). Stephens’ marble group, The Bathers (1878), a fine example of his handling of a genre subject, is in the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth. He was a member of the Institute of Sculptors from 1856 at the latest and probably until its dissolution in c.1872 and was honorary secretary in the early 1860s. Although elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1864, he was never a full RA, a situation the Illustrated London News, a long-time advocate of Stephens’ work, ascribed in its edition of 14 July 1883 (p. 48) to the failure of the ‘ruling authorities of that institution’ to properly appreciate sculpture.

Bibliography: Art Journal, 1 December 1882, p. 379 (obit.); The Builder, 18 November 1882, p. 669 (obit.); T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. xvii, xviii, xxxv, 324; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Liverpool, Liverpool, 1997, pp. 11, 292; A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts. A complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, Vol VII, 1906: Sacco–Tofano, pp. 250–52; R.E. Graves (rev. C. Worthington), ‘Stephens, Edward Bowring’, ODNB, (2004), 2015; Illustrated London News, 25 November 1882, p. 551 (obit.); Mapping Sculpture; Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art, Vol. XV (1883), pp. 58–65 (obit.); I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009, pp. 1193–96; J. Seddon et al, Public Sculpture of Sussex, Liverpool, 2014, pp. 38–39; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 244, 254; T. Wyke, Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester, Liverpool, 2004, pp. 196, 461.

Terry Cavanagh, June 2024

Stephens, Edward Bowring

Edward Bowring Stephens, c.1870, albumen carte-de-visite by Elliott & Fry, NPG x197554 (photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London)