Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

It is easy for us to forget that most early modern sculptors were more comfortable working on paper than carving stone or casting bronze. With large, complex workshops to oversee, multiple projects to manage simultaneously in technically demanding materials, British sculptors such as Joseph Nollekens, Joseph Wilton and John Flaxman would have been content to work largely on the page. Each of these sculptors were consummate draughtsman well used to presenting their conceptions on paper for prospective clients and producing accurate designs that could be followed faithfully by artificers and workshop assistants. Despite the range and quality of drawings made by British sculptors in the period, it is an area that has been largely overlooked as a focus of both scholarship and collecting.

This online exhibition brings together sixteen drawings made by sculptors in Britain in the century from 1720 to 1820. The earliest is a sheet by William Kent, containing the designs for the overdoor figures in the Stone Hall at Houghton, figures not executed by Kent but by the Flemish sculptor Michael Rysbrack. Two beautiful watercolours by the Italian architect and designer Giuseppe Bonomi, point to the continued importance of sculpture in British interiors, in this case neo-classical designs made in full sympathy with the design philosophy of Robert Adam.

Sculptors, almost more than any other type of artist, had an imperative to travel to Italy to complete their education. It was only in the collections of Rome, Naples and Florence that the finest examples of antique sculpture could be seen and studied. Amongst the most significant sheets in this selection are the two drawings made in 1770 in the Tribuna of the Uffizi by Joseph Nollekens accurately recording the proportions of the Venus de’ Medici. Forming part of Nollkens’s treasured studio apparatus, the drawings are recorded in his posthumous sale.

This group offers fascinating insight into the development of the mural funerary monument. Drawings by Joseph Wilton show how the British tradition of wall-mounted monuments was exported internationally, mapping his work shows the expansion of British colonial interest from the Caribbean to India. Wilton’s design for an anonymous ‘Mural Monument for an Officer of the Army’ also reminds us that Britain was at war for much of the century and funerary monuments act as a silent index of British military success. John Flaxman provided a sequence of ambitious national projects of the period. Flaxman’s design for the Mansfield Monument showing it in its proposed setting in Westminster Abbey underscores how attune he was to the site specificity of the commission. Flaxman’s beautifully tender ad vivum study of a young boy made in preparation for his design for the Nelson monument in St Paul’s Cathedral points to how embedded drawing was in his own working practices.

All the drawings in this exhibition are sold mounted, but unframed. We will happily provide a quote for shipping.