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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Peter Turnerelli (1774–1839)

Sculptor, mostly of portrait busts. He was born in Belfast of an Italian father, who was a modeller and figure-maker. The family moved to Dublin in 1787 and Turnerelli initially studied for the priesthood. Following the death of his mother in 1792, the family moved to London and Turnerelli joined them a year later, having abandoned the idea of being a priest and instead, in October 1794, entered the Royal Academy Schools. While at the schools he worked in the studio of P.F. Chenu and after completing his studies spent a brief period in Rome. On his return he came to the attention of Sir Thomas Lawrence and Benjamin West, who recommended him to the royal family as teacher of modelling to the royal princesses. He was eventually appointed the royal family’s sculptor-in-ordinary. Turnerelli enjoyed a remarkable success as a portrait sculptor, with over 80 marble copies of his Jubilee bust of George III being ordered by private patrons and public bodies. He was one of the first portrait sculptors to represent his subjects in contemporary dress. His reputation reached the continent and he numbered among his patrons the Czar of Russia and the King of Prussia; in 1816, Louis XVIII sat for him. Turnerelli’s bust of Henry Grattan, 1812/13 (marble, Rossie Priory, Perthshire, until 2021, afterwards Daniel Katz Gallery; plaster cast, NPG 1341) was praised by Canova as the best modern bust he had seen in England. He also produced some monuments, the most notable being his group of Robert Burns receiving inspiration from his spirit muse while working a plough, for the national monument at Dumfries (1816). The cast iron Stags mounted on plinths to either side of Albert Gate, Hyde Park, London, were very tentatively ascribed to Turnerelli in the Illustrated London News, 31 January 1863, p. 130.

Bibliography: T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 310–11; R. Cocke, Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk, Liverpool, 2013, pp. 159–60; F.M. O’Donoghue, rev. J. Turpin, ‘Turnerelli, Peter (1771/2–1839)’, ODNB (2004), 2006; Oxford Art Online – Grove Art Online; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009.

Terry Cavanagh November 2022

Turnerelli, Peter

Peter Turnerelli, engraved by James Thomson, 1821 (photo: Stephencdickson, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)