John Gibson RA

I annoyingly missed the opening of our small John Gibson exhibition last night.   Born in Gyffin in the hills just above Conway Castle in north Wales, the son of a market gardener, Gibson’s family were due to emigrate to America, but stayed in Liverpool instead, where he was first apprenticed to a firm of cabinet makers and then worked for the marble masons Samuel and Thomas Franceys.   His obvious talent was recognised by a group of collectors, including William Roscoe, the banker, who encouraged him to study ‘the Greeks’ simple actions and pure forms’ and to attend lectures at the Liverpool Academy.   He had a dream that he would travel to Rome on the back of an eagle and his supporters organised a subscription to send him there.    In Rome, he had an introduction to Canova who allowed him to work in his studio until he set up his own in the via della Fontanella.   With Charles Eastlake and Joseph Severn, he helped establish the British Academy of Arts in Rome and remained in Rome for the rest of his life, living simply, but working grandly, in spite of occasional visits to England and the support of the Queen and Prince Consort.   As he said, ‘I thank God for every morning that opens my eyes in Rome’.   But he left the contents of his studio to the RA and most of his fortune.


6 thoughts on “John Gibson RA

  1. Jane Wainwright says:

    I look forward to visiting the exhibition. I love his statute of the young Victoria in the Prince’s Chamber in the House of Lords.

  2. He was a pupil not only of Canova but of Thorvaldsen, and Prince Albert’s favourite sculptor. The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool has a fine collection of his work, with examples of his experiments in recreating Greek polychrome sculpture.

    He also worked a lot with Spode, in Parian ware, which he considered “the best material next to marble”

  3. The plaque to Gibson in St Mary’s and All Saints in Conwy is sadly overlooked today – at the back of the church and often surrounded by a clutter of tables, screens and general equipment. Visitors’ attention is directed elsewhere and Gibson is far from celebrated as a famous son.

    Perhaps Gibson’s connection with the town felt similarly remote during his life in Rome? I know little about this, and look forward to discovering much more in the exhibition.

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