Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914
Lot 149
After George Frederic Watts, OM RA, British
(1817-1904) cast by Thomas Wren, British (b. 1885):
A bronze equestrian reduction of
'Physical Energy' dated 1914
Sold for £ 40,000 (US$ 51,807) inc. premium

Lot Details
Other Properties
Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914 Thomas Wren after George Frederick Watts, OM RA, British (1817-1904): A bronze equestrian reduction  of 'Physical Energy' dated 1914
After George Frederic Watts, OM RA, British
(1817-1904) cast by Thomas Wren, British (b. 1885):
A bronze equestrian reduction of
'Physical Energy' dated 1914
Formed as a stylised classical male rider on a rearing steed, on rectangular naturalistic wedge shaped base, the front inscribed to the cast Physical Energy, G. F. Watts and signed and dated T.H. Wren 1914., black brown patination, raised on a separate ebonised wooden plinth base, the underside with scratched mark to one end HEAD, the bronze, 45.5cm high, 47cm wide, 18cm deep (17.5in, 18.5in, 7in deep), the base, 3.5cm high, 47cm wide, 20cm deep (1in high, 18.5in, 8in deep).

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Acquired by Archibald Baird-Murray (1872-1945) and his wife Margaret (1875-1965) immediately or just prior to the Second World War. The piece then passed to their youngest daughter Eileen (1915-1987) and then passed to the vendor upon the death of Eileen's husband.


    George Frederic Watts began work on his sculpture of 'Physical Energy' in 1883, and based the model on his other large bronze equestrian figure of Hugh Lupus, which he finally completed in 1883 after twenty years work. The Marquis of Westminster commissioned the portrait of Lupus to commemorate the first of the Grosvenors at Eaton Hall and the composition was probably loosely based on equestrian elements of the Elgin Marbles, casts of which were found in the artist's studio. As this major work was a specific commission depicting a known figure, Watt's had to constrain his own artistic ideals to ensure that his patron was satisfied with the work. It is possible that Watts found this personally frustrating, and therefore it is telling that he began working on 'Physical Energy' the same year that this commission was finally completed. In 'Physical Energy' Watts used the model that he had adapted from classical prototypes and developed into the Hugh Lupus bronze to express his own artistic vision, unbound by any practical constraints that working on a particular commission entailed.


    'Physical Energy' can perhaps be seen as an embodiment of Watts ideals, expressing his personal views about the modern age and man's role within it. He depicted man as ruler of the natural world and yet at one within it, with the rider seeming to move as one with the horse although there is no doubt that it is he who is ultimately the master in complete control. The rider's left hand holds the horses reins but he does not attempt to rein in the horse or hold him back and he leans back confidently whilst at the same time looking forward towards the horizon. In this respect the rider appears to personify man's control over nature, the land and the future. His pose is self assured and relaxed and yet simultaneously full of strength and vigour, his nude physique is idealised and the muscles and sinews tensed although his facial expression is calm and measured. Elements of the body are exaggerated for dramatic effect with certain muscles enlarged and the length of the rider's back distorted to highlight the thrust of the head and raised arm and give an impression of strength and action. This exaggeration of form is also explored through the unusually rough, slightly faceted surface texture which Watts achieved through his use of the 'gesso grosso' technique (see below). In 'Physical Energy' Watts thus transformed the realistic portrayal of a known man into the idealised embodiment of mankind.


    Although he had spent time in the studio of William Behnes, Watts was primarily a painter and never received formal training in sculpture. For this reason he sought the help of the renowned sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm when first working in bronze in the 1860's. The casting process at this time typically involved modelling first in clay before casting the model in bronze, however modelling in wet clay aggravated Watt's rheumatism. In the 1870's he began to use a new technique which the Italian sculptor Fabruzzi had developed, known as 'gesso grosso'. This involved a mixture of size and plaster powder in which pieces of tow were soaked. This dried very quickly and so did not aggravate Watts' rheumatism as he modelled the surface, and when dry could be easily carved by hand. This allowed Watts to explore the intricacies of the surface texture in much more detail and to create a variegated effect to catch the light. This is particularly evident in the composition which has a particularly dynamic and rugged surface, allowing Watts to express his ideals of energy and force and to produce a more dramatic effect.


    The present reduction in bronze of 'Physical Energy' was modelled by Thomas Wren in 1914 and was based on the three full-size bronze monumental casts that Watts produced and which were unveiled in Kensington Gardens, London, Cape Town, South Africa and Harare in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Presumably commissioned either by Mary Watts or the Gallery Trustees, Wren produced the reduction from the full size gesso model of the work which was in the permanent collection of the Watts Gallery. The plan was to make a series of casts of the bronze for commercial purpose and these copies were to be retailed from the Watts Gallery, the Fine Art Society and other outlets. It is reported that Wren recalled that around fifty were to be cast by the Parlanti foundry but this venture was curtailed by the outbreak of war possibly as production at the foundry was moved over to the production of armaments.


    Born into a local working class family who lived on the Monks Hatch Estate in 1885, Thomas H. Wren left school to begin an apprenticeship at the Compton pottery set up by Watt's second wife Mary. In the 1911 Census, he was listed as residing at the Watts Gallery, his occupation being 'Clay Modeller'. Although Wren had no formal art training, as a student of the school of arts and crafts and employee at Compton, his artistic talent was presumably of sufficient merit by the time he was nineteen to be recognised and held in high enough esteem to be given commissions to model two commemorative figural memorials of Watts after the sculptors death in 1904. The first, placed in the Cloisters of the grounds of the Watts Cemetery depicts the recumbent figure of Watts at its centre and was modelled in plaster after a design by Mary Watts. The second was a figural plaque which was almost certainly executed in a ceramic body (now painted) which was installed at the Postman's Park near to St Paul's in the City of London. The park became the location for the George Frederic Watt's Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in 1900 and memorial was modelled by Wren depicting Watts holding a scroll marked 'Heroes' and is captioned 'The utmost for the highest' and 'In memorial of George Frederic Watt, who desiring to honour heroic self-sacrifice placed these records here' . This monument and eleven commemorative tiles were unveiled by Arthur Winnington-Ingram, Bishop of London on the 13 December 1905.


    It is unclear when Wren first ventured into transferring his modelling skills at the pottery into the medium of bronze but it most likely that this occurred when he produced a small undated bronze figure of Lord Tennyson and his wolfhound Karenina under Watt's direction, for whom he assisted from 1900. This bronze group was a study for monumental statue by Watts which was erected at Lincoln after his death in 1905.


    Very little other information is known about the later life of Wren although it is possible that he like many other young men of his generation, he volunteered or was call to fight in the Great War. However if this was indeed the case, he did survive as a record of him working at Compton is dated 1919.


    Until recently, apart from the reduction in the permanent collection at the Watts Gallery, only four other reductions of 'Physical Energy' were known, all inscribed 'Physical Energy, G.F. Watts' (right side, front) and 'T. H. Wren 1914' (right side, rear). These are located at The Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and The Gibberd Art Gallery, Harlow. As the present bronze is similarly inscribed and signed it is almost certainly from this same edition and as such is a new and rare discovery.


    Subsequent casts of the model without Wren's name and of a slightly later date are known including one mentioned in a 1928 inventory of the Liverpool University Gallery and another (now lost) acquired by the Fogg Art Museum in 1929.


    We would like to thank the Watts Gallery for their assistance in cataloguing this lot.


    Related Literature:


    A reduction of Physical Energy circa 1914 is illustrated on page 78, J.Cooper, Nineteenth Century Romantic Bronzes , Newton Abbot, London, 1975


    The full size bronze is illustrated in B.Read, Victorian Sculpture, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1982, pl. 349 and 350.
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