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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

James Wyatt (1808–1893)

Sculptor, the second son of sculptor Matthew Cotes Wyatt (1778–1862); his three brothers became architects, but James joined and then continued his father’s practice. He worked as an assistant on his father’s King George III , for Cockspur Street, Westminster (unveiled 1836), and the colossal Duke of Wellington, for Constitution Arch, Hyde Park Corner (installed 1846; removed 1883; now Aldershot). Having an especial interest in equestrian subjects, he designed the eight moulds for the latter’s horse. He exhibited only three times at the Royal Academy. His first showing was a marble of his daughter, Lilla Asleep, in 1838 (private collection, USA), his second and third were both equestrian subjects – Mazeppa, 1843, and An Arab and his Steed, 1844 (both untraced). In 1844, he was an entrant in the Westminster Hall competition, with another equestrian subject, Richard Coeur de Lion; although the figure was praised in the press, he received no commission from Parliament. Equestrian subjects featured in his three contributions to the 1851 Great Exhibition: a model of a quadriga, intended for a triumphal arch, and full-size models for equestrian statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The siting of these latter in pride of place, in the transept either side of the dais used for the Exhibition’s ceremonial opening, caused much resentment among the critics who for the most part considered them ‘crude’, ‘disagreeable’ and ‘inept’ (see, e.g., Illustrated London News, 17 May 1851, p. 424; The Era, 18 May 1851, p. 12; and The Eclectic Review, June 1851, p. 749). His only independent public sculpture commission seems to have been the design of the pediment group, Fruitfulness accompanied by Trade and Navigation (carved by Alexander Handyside Ritchie) on the former Commercial Bank of Scotland, George Street, Edinburgh (1845–46). Notoriously indolent, on inheriting a considerable fortune from his father he retired early. He had three children by his first wife, and married his second at the age of 80.

Bibliography: A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts. A complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904 (8 vols), London (1905–06), vol. 8, 1906 (Toft–Zwecker); R. McKenzie, Public Sculpture of Edinburgh (2 vols), Liverpool, 2018, vol. 2, pp. 91, 93–96, 522; Mapping Sculpture; I. Roscoe et al, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660–1851, New Haven and London, 2009.

Terry Cavanagh October 2023