John Cassidy by Reginald Barber, 1900, courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery (on the Creative Commons licence).
The sculptor John Cassidy (1860-1939) came from a farming background, and was born and grew up in County Meath, Ireland. In about 1880, he left to work in Dublin, where he developed his artistic talents” by studying at Art School in the evenings. He then moved to Manchester, and entered the Manchester School of Art in 1883, becoming an assistant teacher there in 1887. Eventually he became Hon. Treasurer of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts. Best known for his life-size portrait sculptures of local worthies, he had some notable patrons, including Enriqueta Rylands, the widow of the wealthy textile magnate John Rylands. After the World War I, Cassidy was much in demand for war memorials. He is also remembered for busts, architectural sculpture, some larger allegorical pieces, and the dolphin and winged creatures adorning Thomas Worthington's fountain in Albert Square, Manchester.
In talking about the civic statues of this area of Lancashire, Benedict Read categorises Cassidy with Charles Bell Birch and Albert Bruce-Joy as exhibiting "less inspired competence" than their better-known peers, Hamo Thornycroft and George Frampton (364). Yet he was an important contributor to the civic art of the time in this part of the country and indeed of England. In Manchester itself, for example, his Adrift, more fully described as "representing Humanity adrift in the sea of life ... was the first outdoor, non-portrait example of the new sculpture to be acquired” by the city (Hartwell 189). Elsewhere, he was responsible (for example) for Bristol's controversial statue of Edward Colston (1636-1721), the city's great benefactor, who, however, derived his wealth from the slave trade (see Merritt 30-31). Not unexpectedly, in view of past protests, that statue became a flashpoint for the "Black Lives Matter" demonstration there in June 2020, and at the time of writing still lies unreclaimed in the waters of the city's harbour. Nearer home, he was commissioned to produce the fine war memorial in Stourbridge in the West Midlands (see Noszlopy and Waterhouse 153). — Jacqueline Banerjee
Hartwell, Clare. Manchester. Pevsner Architectural Guides. London: Penguin, 2001.
Hulme, Charlie. "The Life of John Cassidy" John Cassidy: Manchester Sculptor (an excellent resource for Cassidy). 3 August 2012.
Merritt, Douglas. Sculpture in Bristol. Bristol: Redcliffe, 2002.
Noszlopy, George T., and Fiona Waterhouse. Public Sculpture of the Black Country. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005.
Read, Benedict. Victorian Sculpture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982.
Last modified 9 June 2020