Details of Sculptor

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Surname Adams Alternative Surname
First Name George Gammon Initial of Surname A
Year of Birth/Baptism 1821 Flourished
Year of Death 1898
Biographical Details A successful sculptor and medallist, he was born at Staines, Middx on 21 April 1821 and educated at Kepler House School. At 16 he went to work at the Royal Mint, where he was apprenticed to the chief engraver, William Wyon RA. He was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1840, giving his address as 1 South Place, Pimlico, and that year won a silver medal for a head of Melpomene (31, RA Premium list). In 1841 he sent three relief medallions to the Royal Academy (118-20). He exhibited there regularly in the years that followed, showing medallions, busts and medals, as well as a few ideal works. After leaving the Royal Mint Adams received informal instruction in modelling and the cutting of medal and coin dies from Benedetto Pistrucci, who was then living in retirement near Windsor.
Adams sent two works to the Westminster Hall Exhibitions, held in 1844 and 1845 to select artists to provide sculpture for the new Palace of Westminster. He secured no commissions but his contributions were noticed by the press. One writer thought his statue of an Ancient Briton (15) ‘a capital figure for an aspirant’ displaying ‘great decision in the muscular development, as well as in character and drawing’ and declared, ‘Mr. Adams has done this well, but he’ll live to do better’ (Lit Gaz, 1844, 483). Another critic praised the Contest between the minstrel and the nightingale for its ‘grace and elegance’ but noted that the effect was ‘in some degree diminished by the lines formed by the arms of the figure’ (AU, 1845, 258) (16).
In 1846 he travelled to Rome, where he studied briefly under John Gibson. In 1847 the RA awarded him a gold medal for a group of the Massacre of the innocents (RA Premium list; 17) and a silver for a steel die engraved with a head of Melpomene. He was entitled to the RA’s travelling studentship, but having recently returned from Rome, he did not use it. He sent several ideal works to the Great Exhibition of 1851 (15, 17, 134) and entered the international competition for the Great Exhibition Juror’s medal. He won 100 guineas for his design, which, with a few modifications suggested by Prince Albert, was used for the verso of the medal and helped to establish the artist’s reputation as a medallist. He went on to produce many medals, including those commemorating the Duke of Wellington’s funeral, the official inauguration of Blackfriars Bridge and the Holborn Viaduct and Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
Meanwhile, Adams’s practice as a portrait sculptor also thrived. In 1852 he was commissioned to make the death mask of the Duke of Wellington (137). From this he executed a marble bust (37), which was apparently admired, for the Duke’s heir wrote to the sculptor that it was ‘considered by myself and those gentlemen who knew him best, as well as by his servants, as by far the best that has appeared, and we are obliged to you for thus making a likeness which hereafter will be considered as authentic’ (Wellesley 1935, cited by Gunnis 1968, 13-14). It was much copied. Further commissions for busts, including several of army officers, followed. Palgrave ridiculed those of General Sir Edward Lugard and T H Franks (57, 58), exhibited at the RA in 1863, saying that they ‘grapple so ineffectually with the exigencies of the uniform, moustache, &c, that they look more like caricatures on the profession than monuments to the gallant originals’ (Palgrave 1866, 41). These criticisms do not appear to have discouraged Adams’s patrons.
He executed a number of public statues that elicited mixed responses (18, 19, 24, 26, 28). When his figure of General Sir Charles James Napier (19) was erected in Trafalgar Square in 1856 one commentator found much to praise, in spite of some reservations: ‘The figure stands well, and the likeness is strongly marked. Simplicity and breadth characterise the treatment, and these are admirable qualities. We must, nevertheless, be permitted to say, rather with reference to works to follow than to this, that carried to extremes, especially in bronze, these qualities result in baldness and insipidity’ (Builder, 1856, 446). In 1862 the Art Journal condemned it as ‘dull and soulless’ and ‘perhaps the worst piece of sculpture in England’, though it blamed the committee who oversaw the commission rather than the sculptor (AJ, 1862, 98). It has been suggested that another sculptor, John Adams-Acton, may have changed his name to avoid becoming associated with this particular work (Read 1982, 14).
By contrast, the statue of Hugh McNeile, Dean of Ripon, for St George’s Hall, Liverpool, seems to have met with unanimous approval, though McNeile was a controversial figure because of his extreme anti-Catholic views (28). When the model for the statue was exhibited the Art Journal commented that it ‘has quiet bearing, yet seems to speak’ (AJ, 1871, 180), while the Illustrated London News praised the statue’s naturalistically depicted drapery and dignified pose (ILN, 22 April 1871, 398). The Daily Post paid tribute to the sculptor who had produced ‘the one good statue in St George’s Hall’ (Daily Post, 15 Dec 1870, cited by Cavanagh 1997, 282).
Through much of his career Adams lived and had his studio at 126 Sloane Street, in Chelsea, London. He was married and had a son who was studying architecture at the time of the 1881 census. His last works were a medal commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and a bust of W E Gladstone for Eton College (115). He died on 4 March 1898 at his home, Acton Green Lodge, Chiswick, and was buried in the family vault in the churchyard of St Mary, Staines. The sculptor’s death seems to have passed unremarked by the periodical press. However, when the sculptor’s widow sent a near-complete set of his medals to auction in 1900 they realized high prices. His works are represented in two national museum collections: the National Portrait Gallery acquired a number of plaster casts from his family soon after his death (34, 36, 38, 41, 43, 50, 59, 60, 67, 70, 93, 126) and his daughter, Miss I D Adams, apparently presented a number of works to the Victoria and Albert Museum as late as 1980 (22, 29, 30, 37, 38, 67, 84-91, 93, 126).
Literary References: Graves 1, 1905-6, 6-7; Gunnis 1968, 13-14; Bilbey 2002, 172-78
Archival References: RA admissions; RA premium list; 1881 census records
Additional MS Sources: Adams Papers 1; Adams Papers 2; Clyde Bust Papers
Wills and Administrations: PPR, administration, 18 July 1898, effects valued at £343
Auction Catalogues: Adams 1900
Portraits of the Sculptor: Self-portrait, bust (84); anon, oil on canvas, c1836, VAM P&D P.43-1982; John Bagnold Burgess, oil on canvas, VAM P&D P.44-1982; photograph, VAM AAD
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