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America

  • Object:

    Design

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1864 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bell, John, born 1811 - died 1895 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pencil, pen and ink and wash on wove paper

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with a grant from the HM Commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851

  • Museum number:

    E.545-2008

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS, case R, shelf 58, box L

Drawing showing a group of figures personifying America by John Bell, 1864, for his sculpture for the base of the Albert Memorial designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) to commemorate Prince Albert. The idea of the commission for the sculpture was to have four groups representing the Continents. Each group was to have four figures, illustrating aspects of relevant countries or peoples, arranged around a representative animal on which is seated a fifth figure, female in every case, which was intended to personify the spirit of the continent. There are sculptural groups representing Africa, Asia, America, and Europe at each corner of the base of the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, London.

This is one of three drawings by Bell for the Continent of America in the V&A. It shows a simultaneous view of the front and back of the sculptural group on either side of the central vertical axis. The left view of the group consists of a Native American brave, personifying the United States, with the figure of America sitting on a bison. The right view shows Canada carrying a cornucopia full of corn, the back view of the America, and the face of the Native American brave, as the United Sates, now on the far side of the bison.

Physical description

Drawing showing a simultaneous view of the front (south) and back (north) for a sculptural group personifying the continent of America on either side of the central vertical axis. The left (south) view of the group consists of a bison subdued with a tomahawk by a Native American brave carrying a bow and shield. He personifies the United Sates. The figure of America, wearing a feather headdress, sits on the bison holding aloft a sceptre topped by a star. The head of a female figure personifying Canada, wearing a wreath of pine cones, is visible at the far side of the bison. The right (north) view shows the full view of Canada carrying a cornucopia full of corn with the bison on her left side, the back view of its rider, and the face of the Native American brave now on the far side of the bison.

Place of Origin

London (made)

Date

1864 (designed)

Artist/maker

Bell, John, born 1811 - died 1895 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Pencil, pen and ink and wash on wove paper

Dimensions

Height: 77.4 cm including gilt frame, Width: 89.6 cm including gilt frame

Object history note

This design is for the sculptural group personifying the continent of America made in marble for one of the four continents for the base of the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, London.

Benedict Read states in his chapter 'The Sculpture' In: Chris Brooks, ed. The Albert Memorial. The Prince Consort National Memorial: its History, Contexts, and Conservation. p. 242 that 'each of the Continents comprises four figures, illustrating aspects of relevant countries or peoples, composed around a representative animal on which is seated a fifth figure - in each case female - intended to typify the spirit of the continent'.

Historical context note

Richard Barnes's great, great grandmother was John Bell's sister, Jane Bell. Richard Barnes used his copyright under a reproduction of E.545-2008 in his book John Bell The Sculptor's Life and Works so it is possible that the drawings were in his family's possession before they were sold at Sotheby's.

Descriptive line

Drawing showing a group of figures personifying America by John Bell, 1864, for his sculpture for the base of the Albert Memorial.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Sotheby's, New Bond Street, London. Anonymous Sale. November 1998, lot. 118.
Read, Benedict. The Sculpture. In: Chris Brooks, ed.
The Albert Memorial. The Prince Consort National Memorial: its History, Contexts, and Conservation. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000. pp. 172, 180, 196, 200, 249-250, 416, ill. 136, 156, 199, 281.
Barnes, Richard. John Bell: The Sculptor's Life and Works.. Kirstead, Norfolk: Frontier Publishing, 1999. 65, 67, 68, 70, 73, 74, 75, 76, 92. pp. ill. 68.

Production Note

This design is one of the first for the sculptural group of America and was probably made shortly after John Bell accepted the commission in his letter dated '19 May 1864'. RA/VIC/ADDH/2/4/822. Bell's design that he described not long afterwards indicated that the figure personifying the United States '[as one] as was the case in 1861' was female. The figure appears to have remained female from then onwards until the final execution of the sculpture in marble.

1861 was the date of the outbreak of the American Civil War (1861-1865) when eleven Southern slave states declared their secession from the United States.

That this design (one of 3) was one of Bell's first is supported by Richard Barnes's comments about them in John Bell. The Sculptor's Life and Works, p. 67. See References tab. He stated that 'in brown wash over pencil lines he prepared his first drawings.'

Materials

Paper; Pencil; Ink; Wash

Techniques

Drawing; Painting

Subjects depicted

Bison; Native Americans (representation); Cornucopia; Weapons

Categories

Designs; Sculpture; Clothing; Accessories; The Great Exhibition

Production Type

Design

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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