Lecture by Dr Angie Dunstan – ‘Shaping the Invisible Sculptor’: The Life’s Work of Thomas Woolner PRB RA’ 19 Nov

Venue: Birmingham & Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, Birmingham – Lecture starts at 11.00 a.m. Reception from 10.30am.

In 1850, the first issue of The Germ opened with a poem by Thomas Woolner, the only ‘poetical sculptor’ of the original Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Woolner’s initial prominence in the movement, however, has been obscured by the works, lives and afterlives of his painter brethren, and by what Woolner himself considered to be the public preference for painting over sculpture. Yet Woolner became one of the most successful sculptors of the Victorian era. His name was initially made through producing memorials and portrait medallions of literary celebrities, before he undertook large and popular public works including his bust of Cardinal Newman (1867), the Embankment’s John Stuart Mill (1878), and Sydney’s Captain Cook (1879). Despite these successful works, in a letter of 1885 Woolner bemoaned what he perceived to be the neglect and corresponding declining cultural value of his profession, describing the era as ‘these bad times for sculpture’.

This paper returns our gaze to Woolner, drawing on long forgotten archives to consider perhaps the most interesting Pre-Raphaelite myth which, she argues, Woolner constructed himself; that of his neglect. While we might join Woolner in reading his omission from histories of Pre-Raphaelitism as symptomatic of sculpture’s lowly status in the nineteenth-century hierarchies of art, I also believe that Woolner precipitated his historical neglect by framing it as such during his lifetime. After analysing his correspondence, diaries and lectures, sge would like to suggest that Woolner effectively wrote himself out of Pre-Raphaelitism as he considered his perceived neglect as allegorical of the nineteenth-century neglect of sculpture. By inhabiting the borders of Pre-Raphaelitism, despite his lifelong adherence to its principles, Woolner self-consciously drew attention to the state of Victorian sculpture and his fears for its future.

Angie Dunstan has taught Victorian literature at Oxford (University College), the University of London (Goldsmiths), and the University of Sydney. She completed her doctorate on ‘The Afterlives of Elizabeth Siddal’ at the University of Sydney, and is completing a manuscript on the Pre-Raphaelite roman à clef. Angie’s research considers the relationship between nineteenth-
century literary, visual and celebrity cultures and she has published in The British Art Journal, Burlington Magazine, Modern Language Quarterly, and several edited collections including William Morris and the Art of Everyday Life (2010). She has published articles on Victorian sculpture and Thomas Woolner in 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
and in the Journal of Australasian Victorian Studies. She is also guest editing a special issue of 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century on ‘Victorian Sculpture’ to be published in 2016.

For further details relating to the event mentioned above please email info@Pre‑Raphaelitesociety.org.

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