Thomas Woolner's "Bad Times for Sculpture": Framing Victorian Sculpture in Vocabularies of Neglect

Angela Dunstan


This article will consider the second half of the nineteenth century as a key era for sculpture; a time of fluctuating cultural, aesthetic and economic value for the art. Drawing on the case study of Pre-Raphaelite sculptor, Thomas Woolner, I will show how he pragmatically cast and recast his profession as both high art and a popular art form in order to defend the dignity and technical complexity of sculpture whilst maintaining a living by it. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, capitalising on cultural developments as varied as British imperialism, growing opportunities for travel and the phenomenon of celebrity became increasingly imperative to a sculptor’s success. By necessity, Woolner’s generation of sculptors had to modify their methods to remain competitive in a mass market rapidly crowded by replicas, statuettes and the ephemera which were invading everyday life and becoming characteristic of modernity. Woolner’s rhetorical moulding of sculpture as an art appealing both to the elite and to the popular markets makes a useful case study in the plasticity of Victorian sculptors themselves as they responded to the changes in the aesthetic and economic value of their art, adapting their methods and adopting new approaches in ways which would reframe the cultural value of the profession by the end of the nineteenth century.


Thomas Woolner; sculpture

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