A finely carved marble statue of Diana returning from the hunt, signed and inscribed 'R.J.Wyatt Fecit ROME'
Richard James Wyatt is perhaps the most famous English neo-classical sculptor of the first half of the 19th century. Wyatt sculpted in plaster first, as was the norm. John Gibson, the sculptor and his contemporary in Rome in the early 19th century, recorded that Wyatt would often make a preliminary model, which might be kept aside for 6 months to a year. If he chose to continue with it he would create a larger scale model, and finally a full scale model (all in plaster) which he would mark up to guide the marble carver.
Unlike many of his contemporaries Wyatt would finish all his pieces himself, whereas other sculptors, especially when at the height of their careers, would leave the final marble carving wholly to assistants.
The sculpture is signed, but not dated. Where firm dating does exist it is because of contemporary records, usually retained by the original aristocratic, or Royal owners, who had originally commissioned the piece, (such as those in the British Royal Collection, or those with the Dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth).
Wyatt did indeed repeat certain themes, most notably the statue of the Nymph going to the bath, first created in 1831. Seven examples were carved over the next thirteen years, in two variants (that of the Nymph at the bath, and the Nymph coming out of the bath). He did not thought copy identically, time and time again, the exact same model in the manner of, say Canova and his studio.
The Mallett Diana is one of three, possibly four, Dianas that Wyatt is recorded as having sculpted, though all are slightly different. The Mallett example is the most ‘cleanly’ classical, almost Grecian in style, pared down and gently stylised. Other versions are in the British Royal Collection (inventory number RCIN 2130 ) which is the last version of them all, and in fact finished after Wyatt’s death by Gibson and by Spence in 1850.
The Mallett Diana shows the figure without a headdress, and carrying a bird. In the example in the Royal Collection Diana is carrying a hare (or Leveret, a young hare). A further, now lost example showed Diana with a hare and a greyhound too.
The Diana has been placed outside and has evidence of weathering as would be expected. She has also suffered damage to the tips of the bird, her left forearm, which has been repaired and reattached or possibly replaced, and to the base. The damage to the base is not really a major issue, the signature is intact, and clear and vivid and that is the important aspect. It has however suffered from being kept outside for some of its life and is not the perfect specimen that the shepherd boy remains. The sculpture must be seen in its context of its rarity, it is one of four recorded, the others of which are in major collections or lost, and of its critical appreciation at the time of its creation. It is a beautiful, and elegant piece that has great purity in its drawing, allied with a dramatic depiction of the billowing drapery for which Wyatt was famed.
As the grandson of the architect James Wyatt, Richard Wyatt won several prizes as a student at the Royal Academy in London and, on his graduation, was introduced to Antonio Canova by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Canova, then the most famous sculptor of his time, invited Wyatt to study with him in Rome. After a period in Paris working with François Joseph Bosio he joined Canova in his studio in 1821 where Gibson was also a pupil, moving briefly to work with Bertel Thorwaldsen before setting up his own studio, opposite that of Gibson, in Via della Fontanella Barberini.
Wyatt's success began with a commission from the Duchess of Devonshire in 1822 and, despite living in Rome until his death in 1850, he remained a frequent and lauded exhibitor at the Royal Academy in London. He returned only once, in 1841, at the request of Queen Victoria, for whom he carved several pieces including The Huntress, Penelope and a portrait bust of the Queen herself. He was a highly accomplished artist whose style remained consistently classical, and highly sought after, throughout his career. He excelled in portraying the female figure and which were seen to rival his late master Canova’s. His importance lies not only in his own work, created for an international clientele from his base in Rome, but also in the profound influence that he and Gibson exercised over domestic English art of the first half of the 19th century.
Examples of his work can be seen in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Detroit Institute of Arts, and in England at Chatsworth ( Musidora ), the British Museum, London (bust of Philip Henry, 4th Earl Stanhope) the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (The Nymph Ino and the Infant Bacchus ), Nostell Priory (Flora and Zephyr ), and, most extensively, in the Royal Collection.
R. Gunnis, Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851, London, 1951, pp. 448-90
B. Read, Victorian Sculpture, London, 1982, pp. 37, 132-133, 141
J. M. Robinson, The Wyatts: an architectural dynasty, Oxford, 1979
CONDITION REPORT ON REQUEST.