Born at Trentham, Staffs., son of the sculptor William Theed I. His mother was French. He attended the Royal Academy Schools, and worked for five years in the studio of E.H. Baily. In 1826 Theed went to Rome, where he studied under B. Thorvaldsen, John Gibson and R.J. Wyatt. It was through the agency of Gibson that Theed was commissioned to produce two figures for the Royal Family for Osborne House. After his return to London in 1848, Theed executed many more royal commissions. He sculpted Prince Albert from the life in 1859 and was commissioned by the Queen to take his death mask in 1861. These experiences qualified him to execute a number of commemorative statues of the prince after his death. The most remarkable of these posthumous celebrations was the double portrait of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort in Anglo-Saxon costume, executed in 1868 (marble, in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore – plaster model, National Portrait Gallery, London). The royal connection was probably also instrumental in bringing Theed prestigious commissions for sculpture in the Palace of Westminster between 1853 and 1867. He was renowned for his classical subjects and for biblical works, such as The Return of the Prodigal Son, a subject which he worked on while still in Rome, but which he probably enlarged for exhibition, first at the Royal Academy in 1850, and then again at the Great Exhibition the following year (there are two known versions in marble, one of which is in the Usher Art Gallery, Lincoln). He produced many funerary monuments, occasional public statues, such as that of Isaac Newton (1859) at Grantham, Lincs., and architectural sculpture. Five figures of Cities by Theed (1856) adorn the ‘new wing’ of Somerset House facing Waterloo Bridge approach. In his combination of classicism, historicism and pious imagery, Theed seems to sum up our idea of high Victorian sculpture.
Sources: Gunnis, R., Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660–1851, London, 1968; Read, B., Victorian Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1982.
Philip Ward-Jackson 2003
William Theed II by Leonida Caldesi, 1860s, albumen carte-de-visite (photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London)