John Evan Thomas was one of Wales leading sculptors of the 19th century. His father, John Thomas, was himself a monumental mason and there are church memorials by him throughout Carmarthenshire and Breconshire. At the age of 14 his father arranged for John Evan to work at the studio of one of the most successful sculptors of the time Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey and this allowed him to set up his own studio in London. John Evan Thomas developed a successful career creating busts for many of the leading families of Breconshire, memorials to commemorate their dead and large public statues of their most favourite sons. Examples

Examples of busts include Thomas Watkins, founder of the infirmary in Brecon, Thomas Phillips founder of Llandovery College, J P de Winton of the Brecon Banking family. Usually attired in a toga to lend them classical style, you can sometimes see, as in the recently rediscovered portrait of Pryse Pryse, the hint of Victorian attire beneath the mantle

His memorials are widely spread in South and Mid Wales . His favourite elements are the draped urn, the weeping female and the profile of the departed in a roundel. A good example of this is his monument to Sir Joseph Bailey, M P for Hereford in the grounds of the Glanusk Estate which on this occasion as well as mourning woman and profile portrait also includes a crisply carved coat of arms. His largest group of funerary monuments fills one wall of the north transept of Brecon Cathedral, brought together by Gilbert Scott from other Brecon Churches when he was “renovating” the building, All are members of the family of John Lloyd Watkins, one time Liberal MP for Brecon. The finely carved “distressed mother” which is part of the memorial to his uncle, George Price Watkins, is redolent with Victorian sentiment. More unusual is the depiction on the memorial to Rev Thomas Watkins where the deceased is being greeted as he awakes on his death bed, not by stylised impersonal angels but by his own children who predeceased him.

His most important public commissions were for full length public statues to local men of power and prestige; Henry Vivian in Swansea , Sir Charles Morgan in Newport, Bute in Cardiff and most importantly to Prince Albert in Tenby. In 1856 The strong determined statue of Wellington that stands in his home town of Brecon was given by John Evan Thomas when he retired from London to settle at Llanspyddid, close to Brecon. On two sides of the plinth are memorials to Picton, a more contentious figure today, both the Welsh hero of Waterloo and the villain of Trinidad. The frieze depicting the moment he is struck in the head by a musket shot is particularly powerful. — William Gibbs

Literary, Mythic, and Historic Subjects

Public Monuments (Full-Length Figures)

Portrait Busts

Funerary Sculpture

Bas Reliefs

Last modified 30 June 2020