“James Prescott Joule” by Alfred Gilbert
J. P. Joule

James Prescott Joule (1818-1889) by Sir Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934). 1893. Marble, on a marble pedestal. Entrance vestibule, Manchester Town Hall, opposite the sculpture of his former master, John Dalton by Sir Francis Chantrey. The statue of Dalton had already been installed in the vestibule (having been relocated from the Royal Manchester Institution, now the Manchester Art Gallery, in 1884), and this one was obviously intended to be a companion piece.

Joule, who was the son of a Salford brewer, is best known for his scientific discoveries about the mechanical value of heat, the conservation of energy, and so forth (see Smith). The unit of energy, the joule, is named after him. Although this is another seated statue showing a scientist deep in thought, from the artistic point of view it also makes a striking contrast with the earlier work on the other side of the vestibule. Gilbert's Joule is more fluid and relaxed than Chantrey's Dalton, even down to what the information plaque calls his "loose dressing jacket" and loose slipper. Benedict Read writes approvingly: "In this, Gilbert showed the extent to which he was prepared to manipulate the material, even though it be the less malleable marble, deeply cutting in to portray Joule's coat hanging loosely [...], tracing Art-Nouveau linear patterns in the chair in underside positions not normally visible [...] and allowing Joule's slipper to dangle..." (359). Another interesting point is the mixing of materials common in the New Sculpture: Gilbert has Joules holding and gazing at a metal scientific instrument: Read suggests that this offsets "the marble mass of the figure" (313). According to Terry Wyke, a part of this instrument has been stolen (35), but perhaps most observers (like the present author) would not be knowledgeable enough to spot that.

Related Material

Photographs, text, and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. [Most of the background has been digitally removed. Since copyright in the photographs has been assigned to Manchester City Council, they should not be reproduced without their permission. Click on the images to enlarge them.]


Information plaque beside the statue.

Read, Benedict. Victorian Sculpture. New York & London: Yale University Press, 1982.

Smith, Crosbie. "Joules, James Prescott (1818-1889)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 21 March 2012.

Wyke, Terry, with Harry Cocks. Sculpture of Greater Manchester. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004.

Last modified 13 October 2017