The Eagle Slayer thumbnail 1
The Eagle Slayer thumbnail 2
+11
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Not currently on display at the V&A
On display at Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, Ironbridge

This object consists of 2 parts, some of which may be located elsewhere.

The Eagle Slayer

Statue
ca. 1851 (cast)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The Eagle Slayer was made in 1851 by the popular Victorian neo-classical sculptor, John Bell. The sculpture is made of cast iron, a material previously only used for industrial use. The sculpture shows a shepherd who, upon discovering one of his sheep has been killed by an eagle, fires an arrow and kills the eagle.

The Eagle Slayer was originally displayed at The Great Exhibition in 1851. It stood outside the original V&A building when it was the South Kensington Museum. The Eagle Slayer was once again reunited with this building when it was brought to Bethnal Green in 1927.

The sculpture is based on one of Aesop's fables: unwittingly we give to our adversaries the means of our own destruction. The eagle has just slain a lamb and the shepherd boy is exacting his revenge, he finds a feather dropped by the eagle. From the feather the boy fashions the most accurate arrow to shoot the bird on its return.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Statue
  • Arrow
Materials and Techniques
Cast iron, painted
Brief Description
Statue, 'The Eagle Slayer', cast iron, John Bell, England, about 1851
Physical Description
Cast iron statue depicting a male figure standing with his legs apart and his left arm holding a bow aloft. His right arm is positioned to draw the bow. Between his feet there is a dead lamb. The statue is painted white.



With the sculpture is an unpainted cast iron arrow shaft from the statue's original display context at the 1851 Exhibition.
Dimensions
  • Height: 2560mm
  • Width: 1320mm
  • Including bow depth: 1660mm
  • Not including bow depth: 650mm
  • Weight: 400 to 450 kg (Note: estimate without plinth )
Style
Production typeUnique
Object history
The Eagle Slayer was made in 1851 by the popular Victorian neo-classical sculptor, John Bell. The sculpture is made of cast iron, a material previously only used for industrial use. The sculpture shows a shepherd who, upon discovering one of his sheep has been killed by an eagle, fires an arrow and kills the eagle.



The Eagle Slayer was originally displayed at The Great Exhibition in 1851. It was presented to the Exhibition's commissioner's at its conclusion, and resided for some years at Kensington Palace. It later stood outside the original V&A buildings ('The Brompton Boilers') when it was known as the South Kensington Museum. Elements of this building were later disassembled and re-erected as the basis of the Bethnal Green Museum, which opened in 1872. The Eagle Slayer was brought to Bethnal Green in 1927, where it was reunited with the building.



The statue was not formally acquired by the Museum until 1959, when it was 'rescued from a shrubbery behind BGM' (i.e. Bethnal Green Museum) after its position at the front of the Museum became occupied by a new flagstaff. In 1960, it was resited to a new position in the north-east corner of the museum's grounds, and placed on a Portland stone plinth made by the Ministry of Works (the designs for which can be seen on MA/62/1/21). However, by February 1961 it was observed that rust marks had begun to appear on the new stone base. By 1977, the statue had fallen into disrepair, having now stood outside the Museum for fifty years. The original bow had been long lost, and by this time replaced with a wooden one, which had subsequently been damaged and removed.



In 2004 the sculpture was removed from outside the museum for urgent conservation work. Research revealed how The Eagle Slayer would have originally looked in 1851. The statue had been painted black to reflect the late Victorian fashion, but close analysis of the paint layers told us the original sculpture had actually been painted white to imitate Carrara marble. Old paint layers were removed from the statue's surface and the rust damage was treated. The Eagle Slayer was then repainted to closely match the original white colour, and moved inside the building to better protect it.



In 2017, the statue was placed on long-term loan to its place of making, now known as the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron in Ironbridge, Shropshire.



Historical significance: The first statue made of cast iron
Historical context
John Bell first exhibited a plaster version of The Eagle Slayer at the Royal Academy in 1837, this was shown again at Westminster Hall in 1844. A marble version was commissioned by Earl Fitzwilliam for Wentworth Woodhouse. A version cast in bronze was shown at the Great Exhibition, 1851, in addition to this one of iron.

Subjects depicted
Associations
Summary
The Eagle Slayer was made in 1851 by the popular Victorian neo-classical sculptor, John Bell. The sculpture is made of cast iron, a material previously only used for industrial use. The sculpture shows a shepherd who, upon discovering one of his sheep has been killed by an eagle, fires an arrow and kills the eagle.



The Eagle Slayer was originally displayed at The Great Exhibition in 1851. It stood outside the original V&A building when it was the South Kensington Museum. The Eagle Slayer was once again reunited with this building when it was brought to Bethnal Green in 1927.



The sculpture is based on one of Aesop's fables: unwittingly we give to our adversaries the means of our own destruction. The eagle has just slain a lamb and the shepherd boy is exacting his revenge, he finds a feather dropped by the eagle. From the feather the boy fashions the most accurate arrow to shoot the bird on its return.
Associated Object
A.75-1970 (Copy)
Bibliographic Reference
British Sculpture 1470 to 2000, A concise catalogue of the collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum by Diane Bilbley with Marjorie Trusted
Collection
Accession Number
A.28-1959

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record createdAugust 17, 2004
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