Sir Richard Westmacott RA (1775-1856)

Westmacott's Wellington Monument

The sculptor Richard Westmacott studied under his father, Richard Westmacott the Elder, before going to Rome in 1793 to become a pupil of Canova. He achieved rapid success, and in 1797 was able to return to England and set up his own studio. He showed work at the RA from that year through until 1839, and became ARA in 1805 and RA in 1811. He was Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Academy from 1827 (after Flaxman), and was knighted in 1837. His studio was said to be the largest establishment of any sculptor bar that of Chantrey.

Westmacott produced a prodigal number of monuments, statues, busts and other works in stone, among the latter being the chimney piece for the Music Room in the Royal Pavillion, Brighton, the reliefs for the north side of the Marble Arch (as well as two other reliefs which ended up above the entrance to Buckingham Palace when the Arch was moved to its present location), the pedimental sculptures for the British Museum, and the Waterloo Vase.

The Waterloo Vase has a ‘marble story’: the enormous chunks of beautiful marble from which it was made were first spotted by Napoleon, passing through Tuscany on his way to Russia. Ever with an eye to posterity, the great general earmarked the marble to be kept in order to make a victory trophy for himself. Events did not turn out that way, and after Napoleon’s fall, the Grand Duke of Tuscany cautiously decided that presenting the marble to King George IV of Britain would be a good move. King George decided a Waterloo trophy would be most suitable, and Westmacott was given the commission. He produced a vase showing George on his throne, Napoleon unhorsed, and various allegorical figures. It was to go to the Waterloo Gallery at Windsor, but its great weight - 20 tons - meant that it in fact went to the National Gallery. Finally it was set up in Buckingham Palace Gardens.

Westmacott’s more conventional sculptural work includes his diploma piece Jupiter and Ganymede at the RA, various allegorical works at Woburn Abbey, monuments at Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s, and statues of Nelson in Birmingham, Liverpool and Barbados (!). Outdoors in London may be seen a Duke of Bedford (Russell Square), C. J. Fox (Bloomsbury Square), Canning (Parliament Square), the monumental Duke of York on his pillar at Waterloo Place, and the even more monumental Achilles by Hyde Park Corner.

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