The New Sculpture

Susan Beattie

Publicaton Date
May 1983
Standard Number
Yale University Press
284 pages

Few movements in art have been as persistently ignored and misunderstood as the revolution set in motion in England after the death of Alfred Stevens in 1875. Omitted altogether from art-historical surveys of the period, or variously dispatched as a parochial reflection of France, as the backdrop to Epstein or as the product of one rogue genius, Alfred Gilbert, the New Sculpture has remained mysteriously proof against the recent waves of enthusiasm for Victorian art.

Susan Beattie’s book offers some challenging answers to questions that have been studiously avoided since the 1890s. What was this revolution about? What were the shared objectives that drew artists of widely varying interests and ability together to form a ‘movement’? What is the true relationship of their work and achievement to the Arts and Crafts revival, to French romantic realism, to the late Pre-Raphaelites and the symbolist movement in Europe?

Introducing a wealth of new material, Dr Beattie describes the background of education from which the New Sculptors emerged, and the four key areas of work upon which they turned their passionate desire for change – architectural decoration, the ideal figure, the statuette and the public monument. She shows how, in collaborating with architects and in promoting the idea of the mass-produced art-object, the fought free of the stifling elitism of the mid-nineteenth century; how, in taking as their subject matter, not conventional allegory and its pretentious abstractions, but the human psyche, they introduced symbolist imagery into sculpture for the first time. Gilbert is revealed, not as a lone giant, but as co-worker with Harry Bates and George Frampton, Hamo Thornycroft, Alfred Drury and others (including a remarkable group of women sculptors) in an unprecedented campaign to redefine the nature of their art and its role in society.