The Three Graces thumbnail 1
The Three Graces thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Sculpture, Room 22, The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries

The Three Graces

Group
1814-1817 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Object Type
This marble figure group was made for the Sculpture Gallery at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, and was originally housed in a specially designed Temple of the Graces. It was commissioned from Antonio Canova (1757-1822) by John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford, who visited the sculptor in his studio in Rome in 1814, and was captivated by the group of the Three Graces which Canova had carved for the Empress Josephine, the estranged wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. She had died in May of that year, and the Duke offered to buy the group from Canova, but Josephine's son claimed it, and that version is now in the Hermitage, St Petersburg. The Duke commissioned a second version from Canova; this was begun in 1814, finished in 1817, and installed at Woburn in 1819. It cost 6,000 zechinni, equivalent to £3000. Canova came over to England to supervise the installation. In the Temple it was displayed on a pedestal adapted from an earlier marble plinth, with a rotating top.

Subject Depicted
The Three Graces, celebrated in classical literature and art, were the daughters of Jupiter (or Zeus in Greek mythology), and companions to the Muses. Thalia (youth and beauty) is accompanied by Euphrosyne (mirth), and Aglaia (elegance). Canova had first depicted the Graces in a painting of 1799, and other drawings and a relief of the subject are also known to have been executed by him at around the same time. In 1810 he modelled a terracotta sketch (Musée de Lyon, France), and in 1812 the Empress Josephine ordered a full-size marble.

Materials & Making
Canova's marble group is based ultimately on his earlier drawings of the subject, and a closely comparable terracotta sketch model (see above). The immediate model for the marble used in the studio was the full-size plaster group, which still exists in the Canova Museum at Possagno, Italy. This has points on it which were used to transfer the composition from the plaster to the marble.

Canova was responsible for the original design of the group, but his assistants would roughly block out the marble. The sculptor himself completed the final carving, and ensured the surface of the stone was finished in such a way as to suggest the soft flesh of the figures and the harmonious relationships between the three heads, for example. The slightly earlier version, now in St Petersburg and similarly supervised by the sculptor though differing in some details, exhibits a high quality of carving. Copies were made in marble during the 19th century after the sculptor's death; these however do not exhibit the same sensitive handling of the marble.
read The Three Graces by Antonio Canova Regarded internationally as a masterpiece of neoclassical European sculpture, The Three Graces was carved in Rome by Antonio Canova (1757 – 1822) between 1815 and 1817 for an English collector. This group of three mythological sisters was in fact a second version of an original – one commi...
object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved marble
Brief Description
Group, marble, The Three Graces, by Antonio Canova, Italy (Rome), 1814-1817
Physical Description
The women embrace each other, naked except for a swathe of drapery hanging between them, and looped over the arm of the Grace on the right. A circular pedestal adorned with a garland of flowers and ribbons stands behind the Grace on the left.
Dimensions
  • Height: 173cm
  • Base width: 97.2cm
  • Base depth: 57cm
  • Weight: 825kg
  • Sculpture weight: 585kg
  • Base weight: 240kg
Gallery Label
  • Antonio Canova (1757–1822) The Three Graces 1814–17 In Greek mythology, the ‘Graces’ represented mirth, elegance, and youth and beauty. The Duke of Bedford commissioned this marble from Canova, then the leading sculptor in Europe, while visiting him in Rome. He displayed the finished group in a specially designed ‘temple’ at his home. It is now considered one of Canova’s most iconic sculptures. Rome Marble Commissioned by John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (1766–1839) for Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire(2021)
  • British Galleries: Canova's group represents the three daughters of the Roman god Jupiter, the handmaidens of the goddess Venus. It was carved for John, 6th Duke of Bedford, and placed at one end of the sculpture gallery at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire. Canova was the one modern sculptor whose work was thought to equal that of the ancients.(27/03/2003)
Credit line
Purchased jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland, with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, John Paul Getty II, Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, Art Fund, and numerous donations from members of the public
Object history
Bought from the Fine Arts Investment and Display Ltd. Provenance: Commissioned from the artist in Rome by John, 6th Duke of Bedford in 1814. Completed and placed in the Temple of the Graces, Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire by 1819. Thence by descent until sold to Fine Arts Investment and Display Ltd in 1985.
Subjects depicted
Association
Summary
Object Type
This marble figure group was made for the Sculpture Gallery at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, and was originally housed in a specially designed Temple of the Graces. It was commissioned from Antonio Canova (1757-1822) by John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford, who visited the sculptor in his studio in Rome in 1814, and was captivated by the group of the Three Graces which Canova had carved for the Empress Josephine, the estranged wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. She had died in May of that year, and the Duke offered to buy the group from Canova, but Josephine's son claimed it, and that version is now in the Hermitage, St Petersburg. The Duke commissioned a second version from Canova; this was begun in 1814, finished in 1817, and installed at Woburn in 1819. It cost 6,000 zechinni, equivalent to £3000. Canova came over to England to supervise the installation. In the Temple it was displayed on a pedestal adapted from an earlier marble plinth, with a rotating top.

Subject Depicted
The Three Graces, celebrated in classical literature and art, were the daughters of Jupiter (or Zeus in Greek mythology), and companions to the Muses. Thalia (youth and beauty) is accompanied by Euphrosyne (mirth), and Aglaia (elegance). Canova had first depicted the Graces in a painting of 1799, and other drawings and a relief of the subject are also known to have been executed by him at around the same time. In 1810 he modelled a terracotta sketch (Musée de Lyon, France), and in 1812 the Empress Josephine ordered a full-size marble.

Materials & Making
Canova's marble group is based ultimately on his earlier drawings of the subject, and a closely comparable terracotta sketch model (see above). The immediate model for the marble used in the studio was the full-size plaster group, which still exists in the Canova Museum at Possagno, Italy. This has points on it which were used to transfer the composition from the plaster to the marble.

Canova was responsible for the original design of the group, but his assistants would roughly block out the marble. The sculptor himself completed the final carving, and ensured the surface of the stone was finished in such a way as to suggest the soft flesh of the figures and the harmonious relationships between the three heads, for example. The slightly earlier version, now in St Petersburg and similarly supervised by the sculptor though differing in some details, exhibits a high quality of carving. Copies were made in marble during the 19th century after the sculptor's death; these however do not exhibit the same sensitive handling of the marble.
Associated Object
Bibliographic References
  • Wittkower, R. Sculpture. Process and Principles . London, 1977. p. 229
  • Clifford, T. (et al.), The Three Graces: Antonio Canova (exh. cat.). National Gallery of Scotland, 1995
  • Williamson, Paul, ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996, pp. 170-171
  • Friborg, F., “Det levende Kjød. Antonio Canova: De Tre Gratias”, Meddelelser fra Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Ǻrgang 52, Copenhagen, 1996, pp. 114-139, ill. P. 12, fig 3
  • Macmillan, D., “The Iconography of Moral Sense: Gavin Hamiltons sentimental heroines”, in: The British Art Journal, I, 1, Autumn, 1999, p. 46, pl 1
  • Williamson, Paul, “Acquisition of Sculpture at the Victoria & Albert Museum, 1992-1999”, in: Burlington Magazine, Dec. 1999, CXLI, p. 787, fig. XIV
  • Baker, Malcolm, Figured in Marble. The Making and Viewing of Eighteenth-Century Sculpture, London, 2000, p. 150, fig. 119 and p. 151
  • Bindman, David. Warm Flesh, Cold Marble - Canova, Thorvaldsen and their Critics. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014, p. 104, ill. p. 105, fig. 45
  • Trusted, Marjorie. The Return of the Gods: Neoclassical sculpture in Britain. London: Tate Publication, 2008, cat.5
Collection
Accession Number
A.4-1994

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record createdNovember 20, 2002
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