When the time comes for the compilation of a detailed history of the progress of British sculpture during the nineteenth century, a special chapter will have to be devoted to the part played by the famous French sculptor, Dalou, in the development in this country of the art of which he was so distinguished an exponent. He came to us some thirty years ago, as so many of his countrymen have at various times, to escape the consequences of his over-strenuous participation in political agitations, and the opportunity of his presence here was seized upon by our more enlightened leaders in art education as one which could be most advantageously turned to account. Soon after his arrival in England he was appointed teacher of modelling in the National Art Training School at South Kensington, on the initiative of Sir Edward Poynter, who was then the head of that institution; and his services as an adviser were also secured by other art schools. Indeed, he became at once a very active worker in the field of art education, a worker, who, by both precept and example, was able to exercise an immense influence over a large number of students, and to direct in a very effective manner their training in the particular form of practice on which, as a consummate master, he was peculiarly able to speak with authority.
What was the effect of the intervention of a man of his vigorous personality and splendid powers in the rather conventional routine of English art teaching can well be imagined. He awoke in his pupils an amount of enthusiasm and a degree of keen interest in their work far beyond anything that the adherents to the older methods were capable of exciting. There was not only a stimulating novelty in his manner of presenting the dry technical facts of the sculptor's craft, but there was, as well, in his belief in the mission and purpose of sculpture a firmness of conviction that was eminently satisfying to youthful aspirants who were seeking the right direction for the future expression of their own ideas. They found themselves, for once, in the closest association with a master mind, in contact with an individuality which was unlike any to which they had hitherto been accustomed; and they were taught to see the traditions of their art in a new light.
As a consequence there came quickly into existence a group of young students of sculpture who, under Dalou's direction, began to show a high sense of artistic responsibility and a firm grasp of executive essentials. Inspired by his example and guided by his instruction, these students brought into British art a fresh note, of which the significance could not be mistaken. As years have gone by they have one by one risen to deserved prominence in their profession, and upon the teaching which they received from the great Frenchman they have built up a notable amount of sterling achievement which has done much to raise the repute of the sculpture of this country all over the world. Each one of them has developed a manner personal to himself; Dalou's training did not produce merely a school of copyists, nor did it lead to unintelligent repetition of certain processes of execution which he prescribed. He sought rather to induce each of his pupils to think out the problems of his art with real independence, and to realise how the vital principles which underlie all memorable accomplishment could best be applied. That he succeeded is evident enough to us to-day, for we can refer to the work which these men have been doing for nearly a quarter of a century, and we can see in it how appropriately each one has applied the master's precepts.
One of the most distinguished members of this group is Mr. Alfred Drury, who had a longer and in many ways a more definite association with Dalou than any of the other students who were brought under the great Frenchman's influence. Mr. Drury at the time of Dalou's advent in England was working in the South Kensington school. He had come there on the advice of Mr. Thomas Brock, late in the seventies, to continue the artistic training which he had commenced some time previously in the Oxford School of Art; and he had even then fixed upon sculpture as his particular subject. This decision was, no doubt, due in great measure to the inspiration of his surroundings at Oxford: to the stimulating of his aesthetic inclinations by the atmosphere of a place full of splendid examples of architectural design; but the more immediate cause was his study of the collection of works by Sir Francis Chantrey in the University Galleries. With this collection he became familiar very early in his life, while he was engaged as a choir-boy at New College, and it seems to have aroused in him an ambition which grew steadily stronger as years went on. That he had not mistaken his vocation was sufficiently proved by his career at South Kensington. He had not long been there before he was recognised as one of the most promising and indefatigable students in the school and as a man for whom a brilliant future could be safely prophesied. His progress was punctuated by many successes; he took the highest award in the National Competition three years running and he gained a number of other prizes during the period of his studentship. From Dalou, who was quick to perceive the reality of his enthusiasm and the greatness of his capacities, he received a full measure of attention, and he knew well how to profit by the hints of a master who was ready to give him just that thorough drilling he desired in both the refinements and the fundamental principles of the art in which it was his intention to excel.
So convinced was he of the importance of his fortunate association with Dalou, and so eager was he to continue it as long as possible, that when his master returned to France he went with him as an assistant and remained for four years in Paris working in Dalou's studio and helping him in the carrying out of some of his most ambitious creations. In this way Mr. Drury secured a wider and more practical experience than mere school training could possibly have given him, and he had the special advantage of commencing his actual career as a worker under the supervision of the same accomplished craftsman who had directed the whole course of his earlier study. He escaped that intermediate period between the routine work of the school and the blossoming out into independent production, a period that to many young artists is a dangerous one because in the first emancipation from the dictation of his teacher the inexperienced practitioner is about to attempt flights which are impossible to him and to become disheartened by failures which had he known himself better he would have seen to be inevitable. Many men have wrecked a promising career by extravagance of effort in their first few years of independence, and others have seriously delayed their efficient progress by wasting their youthful energies upon ill-considered strivings to achieve impossibilities it shows no deficiency of restraint and no tendency which in their maturity they would have had the towards the extravagance of manner which an artist discretion to avoid.
But Mr. Drury fortunately escaped all these temptations. Instead of being thrown on his own resources before he was sure of himself he was privileged to serve an apprenticeship in a studio where some of the greatest examples of modern sculpture were being brought to completion. Dalou at that time was occupied with several of the works on which his reputation most securely rests &mdash things like his great group The Triumph of the Republic and the Mirabeau relief &mdash and his young assistant was able to take an actual part in the shaping of these evidences of his master's genius. That all this implied a great deal of strenuous labour is obvious enough, but labour of this kind accustomed him to the rough side of his profession and taught him what to expect if he was to put his own ambitious conceptions later on into a shape that would be impressive.His conspicuous success in recent years with works on a large scale, and constructively of an exacting order, is assuredly due in no small degree to the thorough experience which he obtained at this early stage of the mechanism of a craft which makes very considerable demands upon the physical powers of the men who follow it, as well as upon their inventive ingenuity.
His first appearance as an exhibitor at the Royal Academy was made in 1885, when he showed there a group, The Triumph of Silenus, which he had executed during his spare moments at Paris. This group, which is half life-size, bears very evidently the stamp of Dalou's influence, but it is by no means lacking in the more personal qualities of style and method which have since been developed so distinctively in Mr. Drury's maturer productions. It has a certain richness of treatment which is unusual in the work of English sculptors, a robustness of sentiment and an opulence of form which suggest the youthful exuberance of the designer, but technically it shows no deficiency of restraint and no tendency towards the extravagance of manner which an artist less soundly trained might have displayed in rendering a subject so susceptible of exaggeration. The material he chose for The Triumph of Silenus, was terra-cotta, one which presents some exceptional difificulties in management and needs a particular type of technical experience. But these difficulties, as the success of his work proves, he overcame quite efficiently, and he mastered then a medium which which has since served him usefully in the execution of many important pieces of decorative sculpture.
The year of his appearance at the Academy saw also the completion of his term of work and study in Paris. He came back to London and for a while was engaged as one of the large staff of assistants in the studio of Sir Edgar Boehm. But this was only a kind of interlude in his career, a temporary expedient for bridging over the intermediate time between his return and the establishing of his reputation as a sculptor to whom important commissions could safely be entrusted. He had not long to wait for the full recognition of his claims, and step by step he has advanced until now he is regarded as one of the chief leaders of a movement which has brought almost unprecedented prosperity to the profession which he follows.
Meanwhile he took care to make the customary appeals for attention by sending works, always interesting and often ambitious, to the periodical exhibitions. In 1886 he had at the Academy two terracotta busts, Fred. Isham, Esq., and James Campbell, Esq.; in 1887 a bust of George Cowell, Esq. and in 1888 a statuette, The Genius of Sculpture, and an ideal bust, Penseroso. In 1889 he exhibited three things, a bust of Madame Nordica, another of Solomon S. Cohen, Esq., which is now in the Westminster Town Hall, and a terra-cotta group, The First Reflection, which nine years later he sent to the Dresden Exhibition and sold to Queen Carola of Saxony. Another terra-cotta group. The Evening Prayer, appeared at Burlington House in 1890, and was bought for the Manchester Corporation Gallery; and in three following years he was represented by life-sized statues, Echo, Harmony, and Circe, and in 1892 and 1893 by pictures as well, two oil paintings with the titles He loves me, he loves me not, and Daffodils.
Left: Three views of Circe by Alfred Drury, RA. Park Square, Leeds. Bronze. Middle: One of several versions of Griselda. Right: The marble version of The Age of Innocence; Drury also produced it in bronze. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]
His principal work in 1894 was the Circe statue in bronze &mdash he had shown it the year before in plaster &mdash and with it he sent a bronze head of St. Agnes. Both these were acquired by the Leeds Corporation for the City Art Gallery. An ambitious piece of sculpture, a large relief. The Sacrifice of Isaac, followed in 1895; and in 1896 and 1897 two delightful ideal busts, Griselda and The Age of Innocence, the first of which was bought by the Council of the Royal Academy for the Chantrey Fund Collection.
Left three: Joseph Priestly as illustrated in Baldry's article and as cast in bronze. Middle three: Eve (or Evening) as illustrated in the 1906 studio and as installed in Leeds. Right: The Age of Innocence; . [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]
Special mention must be made of one of his contributions to the 1898 Academy, for it was an important example of his work in decorative sculpture, or rather in sculpture which was to be applied to decorative purposes. This was the colossal female figure Eve, one of a series of electric light standards to be erected in the city square at Leeds as part of the scheme of decoration which has been carried out there with such marked success. Two more pieces of sculpture for the same place were exhibited in the following year &mdash an elaborately ornate and finely proportioned Base and Column for Electric light and a statue of Joseph Priestley. Before the next exhibition came Mr. Drury had been elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, a distinction he had well earned. His admission to the ranks of the Academy made, however, no difference in the character of the works which he continued to show there. He still kept to comparatively small things, and used his privileges with commendable moderation.
Left: The Little Duchess as illustrated in Baldry's article. It also exists in bronze. Middle: Queen Victoria). Right: Bust of His Majesty King Edward VII. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]
In 1900 he showed only a bronze bust, The Prophetess of Fate, and a small marble relief, The Little Duchess; in 1901, three busts of Mrs. John Maddocks, Alexander McLeod, Esq., and The Hon. Sir John Alexander Cockburn, K.C.M.G.: in 1902, portrait busts of T. B. Wood, Esq., and Professor Arthur Schuster, an ideal bust in marble, Innocence, and a model for the Queen Victoria memorial at Bradford; in 1903, a bust of the King for the Town Hall at Warrington, and another of The late Sir William , K.C.B.; in 1904 a bust of Lord Masham, a silver plaquette [Grade?] and a bold and effective Keystone for the Building of the Royal London Friendly Society; and last year a bust of The late Dr. John Hopkinson, a bronze head, The Spirit of Night, a Study for the Statue of St. George, the head of a full-length figure designed for erection at Clifton College, and a panel symbolical of The Fine Arts for the pedestal of the Queen Victoria Memorial at Wellington, New Zealand.
Left: Keystone for the Building of the Royal London Friendly Society. Middle: Study for the Head of Saint George). Right: The Fine Arts. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]
Besides these Academy contributions there have been at other galleries many things which can be counted among his greater successes. At the New Gallery he has been represented continuously since the first exhibition there, and always by work which has done him justice &mdash for instance, by such memorable efforts as the Gipsy Maiden (1889), Inspiration, and Guido (1890), and the bronze relief My Queen (1896).
Left: Inspiration. Right: My Queen. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]
Even as an exhibiting artist society's offices, he has shown a great amount of industry and has been responsible for quite a large series of productions which have a right to be remembered. The quality of his work has always been excellent, and as his powers have ripened the beauty and dignity of his style have become more evident, and the fertility of his invention has been displayed more and more persuasively.
And yet what he has exhibited is by no means the greater part of what he has done. Indeed, it would be almost true to say that the bulk of his exhibition pieces have been executed in the spare moments of an exceptionally busy career. For a long while past his studio has been full of big things, memorials, decorative objects on a large scale like the Leeds lamp standards, and vast groups of sculpture destined to occupy prominent positions in buildings the architectural importance of which has made necessary the provision of special ornamental features. In the decorative direction he has found ample occupation for his rare faculties as a designer and for his exceptional skill in dealing with sculptured ornament that has to take its right place in association with architecture. He has an admirably correct instinct for what is needed to make the alliance between the sculptor and the architect of advantage to both, and to the recognition of this instinct has been due the steady and still increasing demand for his services. Moreover, he is known to have an expert knowledge of the way in which different materials should be handled &mdash his early insight into the somewhat complicated technicalities of terra-cotta modelling, for instance, has been of great value to him &mdash and the architect naturally feels confidence in the sculptor who can vary his methods to meet particular exigencies.
Quite a long time has elapsed since he produced his first notable effort in architectural sculpture, a set of terra-cotta spandrils with figures in high relief for the front of a coach-builder's establishment in the Hammersmith Road, and it is some eight years since he executed the much-praised series of allegorical terminal figures, representing The Months, for the terrace of a garden in the West of England. More recently he has done much more work of the same type, and always with the happiest combination of sterling originality and dignified taste. Perfunctoriness or careless concession to stock conventions have never marred his achievement; there is nothing in the series of his decorative essays which his admirers could regret or condemn as unworthy of him. Even when the work in hand may have seemed comparatively unimportant he has kept consistently to a really high standard, and has done his best with what other men, less capable or less con.scientious, might have despised as indifferent opportunities. Now he is reaping his reward for all his devotion to the higher principles of his art, for he has gained a real mastery over the vital essentials of the branch of decoration in which he finds his best chances, and when he is confronted with a great possibility he does not fail to profit by it to the utmost.
Left: Truth and Justice as illustrated in Baldry's article. Right: The Peace Group. [Click on thumbnails for larger images and recent photographs.]
Nothing shows this better than the series of colossal groups of figures which he has just completed for the new War Office building in Whitehall. Here, indeed, he has had an opportunity that would have been hailed with enthusiasm by one of the great mediaeval sculptors, an opportunity which would induce the man with a high sense of responsibility to put forth his fullest energies to attain a monumental result that future generations would acclaim as the achievement of a master. Mr. Drury, as might have been expected, has risen to the occasion and has gone further than he ever has before both in thought and practice. He has, with a discretion that cannot be too heartily commended, avoided the merely obvious without falling into the mistake of being too abstruse in his symbolism. The figures tell their story frankly enough, but the story they have to tell is no triviality, but something with dramatic force and a convincing moral. The dignity of the artist's conception is as impressive as the strength with which he has attacked the technical problems presented by a piece of work so complicated and so exacting in its demands upon his knowledge of construction and his capacity for overcoming mechanical difficulties. Nowhere can he be said to have failed to show himself equal to a task which was calculated to test him severely, and his success is all the greater because it has been attained under conditions which might well have excused many deficiencies.
One thing that is very evident in these War Office groups is the manner in which he has given free rein to his imagination in selecting the subjects which the figures have been designed to illustrate. For this type of symbolical sculpture there are rules prescribed by custom and long usage, fixed conventions which are not infrequently held to be good enough to guide the modern worker, simply because they have served his predecessors for many generations. He is supposed to confine himself to recognised formalities, and in a large number of instances he is not, it must be admitted, any too anxious to put himself to the trouble of seeking out new forms of expression. For one thing, his clients who claim his services are quite disposed to be satisfied with the sort of work to which they are accustomed, and ask only that the stock things he gives them should be executed with sufficient skill. For another, the repetition of the old ideas, with, perhaps, some slight modifications which will pass as new readings of the familiar stories, is easy to manage, and imposes no tax upon his inventive capacities. Only the conscientious artist who finds pleasure in thinking things out for himself and rebels against stereotyped modes of expression would exert himself to do for his own satisfaction what the people for whom at the moment he is working do not specially demand of him.
But Mr. Drury happens to be a conscientious artist, and a man with ideas besides. So he has sought, not with any wilful intention to be unlike everyone else, but sincerely and in fulness of conviction, to prove that departures from ancient tradition can be made without straying into extravagance or losing the monumental quality which should be his special aim. He has avoided the theatrical taint with memorable discretion, and yet he has found in the subjects suggested by the purpose to which the building he has adorned will be applied ample inspiration for sculpture which embodies the vital points in the drama of Peace and War. Each of the figures and each of the groups signifies something that is nobly imagined and finely thought out; each is an independent and original conception; and yet each one takes its proper place in the story which the whole series sets forth, and takes it as rightly as the work itself agrees with the architectural design
Indeed, this is, perhaps, the greatest merit of Mr. Drury's achievement here : that in producing magnificent sculpture he has not forgotten that the object of his effort was to be the completing and enhancing of a piece of well-proportioned and impressive architecture. He has sacrificed none of his own individuality, none of his personal sentiment about his art, and certainly none of his admirable vigour of technical practice; but he has not forced his contribution to the general effectiveness of the building into an excessive prominence which would be inartistic because it would imply on his part a lack of a due sense of proportion. His discretion as a designer is not more worthy of praise than his strength of craftsmanship. The large and certain modelling of the heads and limbs; the breadth and firmness of the draperies, magnificent in their quality of massive light and shade, and yet perfectly elegant and easy in their flow of line; the rhythmical adjustment of forms and masses &mdash all are imposing in their masculine power, and yet all are restrained and kept in proper subjection by a sense of refinement and a love of beauty which deserve no ordinary degree of commendation.
But, after all, Mr. Drury's success is but the logical outcome of his use of his temperament and his training. He has progressed stage by stage, building always upon the knowledge which he has steadily gathered in many directions, and using his successive experiences to widen his view, and to enlarge the scope of his activity. There has been no turning back in his career, no slackening of his determination to obtain a grasp of those vital matters which count for so much in the equipment of an artist. He has never worked simply for the moment; whatever he has done has been invariably in the nature of a preparation for something later on. In this, his latest and, in many respects, his most ambitious effort, we see the result of years of consistent striving to realise ideals which were implanted in his unusually receptive mind at the most receptive period of his life; and we see, too, the development of capacities, always great, which have been guided constantly by an influence that has never waned. And even more can we perceive what we are justified in expecting in years to come from an artist who already has attained such a mastery over his craft.
Baldry, A. Lys. “A Notable Sculptor: Alfred Drury, A.R.A.” The Studio. 37 (1906): 3-18. Internet Archive digitized from a copy in the University of Toronto Library.
Last modified 17 July 2011