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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Joseph James Whitehead (1868–1951)

Sculptor born in Aston, Birmingham, the elder son of John Whitehead, an undertaker, stone and marble merchant, and owner of J. Whitehead & Sons, a thriving monumental sculpture business based in London. Joseph Whitehead attended the National Art Training School in the late 1880s and subsequently the Accademia di Belle Arti di Carrara where his father’s firm had an office. Here also he met his future wife, Ottilia Maro (1866–1957). On the couple’s return to England, Whitehead joined the family firm and became principal sculptor, and either in 1902 or, following his father’s death in 1904, managing director. He also operated independently of the firm, working from his own studio near the firm’s workshops in Vincent Square. Whitehead’s twin roles as independent sculptor and managing director of J. Whitehead and Sons have led to some confusion, with his private commissions, despite their bearing the signature ‘Joseph Whitehead. London’, being sometimes ascribed to the firm (see, e.g., ‘Bibliography’ below). Whitehead exhibited at the Royal Academy summer exhibitions, 1889–95, his works amounting to one statue and five busts. In 1893, he carved the relief portrait bust of Revd Charles Spurgeon for his monument in West Norwood Cemetery. This was followed two years later by a memorial to Dr John Rae, St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands – an expressive, superbly carved, marble effigy of the explorer asleep, his hands clasped behind his head, open book and rifle at his side. In the same year came his memorial bust of Archbishop Robert Knox (RA 1895, no. 1615) for St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, Northern Ireland. His monument to Sir Augustus Harris, 1897, Brompton Cemetery is in a sadly ruinous state. A work entirely lost is the anti-vivisectionist Brown Dog Memorial, 1906, formerly Latchmere Park Recreation Ground, Battersea, south London; the cost of a permanent police watch over the memorial to prevent medical students destroying it proved too much for the council who discreetly removed it one night in 1910 and subsequently had it melted down. In Woodside Cemetery, Paisley, Scotland, is the monument to Second-Lieutenant Daniel M. Duncan (d. 1918) killed in action in the closing months of the First World War, for which Whitehead provided the poignant Mother and Son group, loosely based on Michelangelo’s Pietà (St Peter’s, Rome); it has been suggested that the death of Whitehead’s own eldest son, Eric, in the same year, influenced his choice of subject. Whitehead’s last significant public sculpture was his model of a jubilant home-returning soldier, raising his helmet above his head in salutation. At least seven bronze casts were made in the early 1920s, all of them inscribed on the integral bases with the names of both the sculptor and the founder (A.B. Burton): one cast, formerly at the King Edward Street Post Office, City of London, was destroyed by fire in 2004, the others are at Chertsey, Worthing, Stafford and Truro in England; Ebbw Vale in Wales; and Queens County, Liverpool, Nova Scotia. With the deterioration of Whitehead’s health in the early 1930s, he and his wife moved to the Hampshire coast where, with the architect W. Hinton Stewart, the sculptor designed the couple’s final residence, Creek House, Barton on Sea.

Bibliography: Building News, 28 April 1893, p. 592; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, p. 121; T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of South London, Liverpool, 2007, pp. 370, 393–97; A. Lamb, ‘John Rae’s Sculptor – Some Notes on Joseph Whitehead’, Aglooka Advisor (The John Rae Society), No. 11 (Winter 2020), pp. 12–14; F. Lloyd et al, Public Sculpture of Outer and South West London, Liverpool, 2011, pp. 265–66; Mapping Sculpture; P. Mason, The Brown Dog Affair. The story of a monument that divided the nation, London, 1997; G.T. Noszlopy and F. Waterhouse, Public Sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country, Liverpool, 2005, pp. 124–25 (memorial here misattributed to ‘Joseph Whitehead & Sons’; J. Seddon et al, Public Sculpture of Sussex, Liverpool, 2014, pp. 170–71 (memorial here misattributed to ‘JM Whitehead and Sons Ltd’).

Terry Cavanagh November 2022