5 October 2016: Thomas Brock - London's forgotten Sculptor

On 5th October 2016 the first meeting of the Wye Historical Society for 2016/17 heard John Sankey speak on "Thomas Brock - London's Forgotten Sculptor". Although he is best known for producing the Victoria Memorial, the illustrated talk made clear that the prolific Brock produced some of the most well-known public sculptures in London.

Born in 1847 in Worcester Brock first became an apprentice at the porcelain works, but left for London aged 19 to work in the studio of sculptor John Henry Foley. At the time Foley was working on the figure for the Albert Memorial. However, in 1874 Foley died and it was Brock who saw the project through to completion. This led to commissions in his own right. First, in 1880, was a statue of Robert Raikes, founder of the Sunday School movement, for the newly opened Embankment Gardens, which shows his great attention to detail. "Moment of Peril" followed in 1881 - a dramatic piece showing a Native American on a horse being attacked by a python. Originally made for the Royal Academy in plaster Lord Leighton lent Brock the money to have it cast in bronze so it could be entered into the Chantrey Prize, which it then won. Leighton was an important patron as he became president of the RA and encouraged Brock in his career.

Although most of Brock's commissions were of public figures he did produce "Eve" in 1898, as a response to Rodin's Eve which he thought wasn't beautiful enough. Henry Tate (of Tate & Lyle) then commissioned a version in marble. After many years languishing in storage at the Tate Gallery it is now once again in pride of place. Brock also produced for the Tate a memorial statue of Sir John Millais, which was somewhat ironic as Millais disliked Brock in life. Other well-known statues include Henry Irving outside the National Portrait Gallery, Gladstone in Westminster Abbey and Captain Cook in the Mall. However, it is depictions of Queen Victoria that Brock is best known for. He produced many busts and statues but his crowning achievement was the Victoria Memorial. A huge sculpture, Brock had to use two temporary studios and employ around 100 men to complete the work. In addition to the seated figure of the Queen, to the sides are "justice" and "truth" and facing Buckingham Palace is "motherhood". On top is the figure of victory - a pun on her name - with the symbolic ladies "constancy" and "courage". It was unveiled in 1911 by George V, who was apparently so pleased he knighted Brock on the spot. However, it wasn't completely finished - some bronze figures were added in 1914 and the final set was not ready until after Brock's death in 1922, and were installed by his son in 1924.

John Sankey finished his talk by suggesting that there is an achievable way of owning some of Brock's work as he designed the "veiled head" coinage of 1893-1901.

Ellie Morris