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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Albert Toft (1862–1949)

Sculptor born in Birmingham into a family of Staffordshire artists in pottery and silverwork. He was first apprenticed as a modeller in the Birmingham metalwork firm, Elkington & Co., then moved to Wedgwood, before studying at the Hanley and Newcastle-under-Lyme Schools of Art. From 1881 to 1883 he studied at the National Art Training School, South Kensington, under Edward Lantéri. Toft first made his mark as a portraitist in terracotta, but in the 1890s he embarked on distinctive symbolist themes, under the influence of the so-called New Sculptors. The nude female figure entitled Fate-led (marble, 1891, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) moves forward in a trance, drawn by some invisible force. Equally spellbound is the almost symmetrical seated nude, The Spirit of Contemplation (bronze, 1901, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne). After the turn of the century Toft took up commemorative public sculpture, with figures of Queen Victoria for Leamington Spa (1902), Nottingham (1905), and South Shields (1913). He executed impressive Boer War Memorials; for Birmingham (1905), a figure of Peace riding on a gun-carriage, and for Cardiff, the Welsh National Memorial (1909). After the First World War he would produce many more war memorials, including the Royal Fusiliers (1920–22), Holborn, City of London; Oldham (1922–23); and the four figures representing the armed services, surrounding Birmingham’s Hall of Memory (1923–24). Toft became a member of the Art Workers’ Guild in 1891. In 1904, he was among those sculptors invited to join the newly founded (later Royal) Society of British Sculptors (RBS) ‘without the formality of proposal and seconding’; in 1923, when the RBS membership divided itself into Fellows and Associates, he was one of the 22 members to be elected as Fellows (he was a council member 1919–21 and 1928–29). Surprisingly, he was never elected to the membership of the Royal Academy despite exhibiting regularly there, 1885–1947. His sculptor’s manual, entitled Modelling and Sculpture, was published in 1924.

Bibliography: S. Beattie, The New Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1983; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of South London, Liverpool, 2007, pp. 115–17; Mapping Sculpture; G.T. Noszlopy, Public Sculpture of Birmingham (ed. J. Beach), Liverpool, 1998, pp. xxii, 21–22, 106, 165; G.T. Noszlopy and F. Waterhouse, Public Sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country, Liverpool, 2005, pp. 99, 151–52, 175–76; G.T. Noszlopy, Public Sculpture of Warwickshire, Coventry & Solihull, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 87–88, 95–96; B. Read, Victorian Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1982; M. Stocker, ‘Toft, Albert Arthur’, ODNB, (2004), 2020; The Times, 21 December 1949, p. 7 (obit.); P. Usherwood et al, Public Sculpture of North-East England, Liverpool, 2000, pp. xvii, 77–78, 177–78; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 196–98; Who Was Who, 2007; T. Wyke, Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester, Liverpool, 2004, pp. 272, 274, 276, 290–91.

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

Toft, Albert

George Clausen, Albert Toft, oil on canvas, 1913, Birmingham Museums Trust, acc. no. 1947P17 (photo credit: CC0, via Art UK)