A finely carved marble statue of a shepherd, resting on his staff with a fleece over his shoulder, the reverse of the tree stump signed R.I. Wyatt Fecit ROME.
Richard James Wyatt (b.1795 – d.1850) was born into a family of sculptors, carvers and architects in London, and went on to become one of the most famous English neo-classical sculptors of the first half of the 19th century. He enrolled at the Royal Academy School, winning a silver medal in 1815 for the best model from life, before relocating to Paris in 1820 where he spent a period in the studio of the distinguished sculptor, Baron François-Joseph Bosio. Although only spending a year under his guidance, Wyatt was undoubtedly influenced by Bosio’s technique of creating a beautifully smooth, warm surface in his subjects, apparent in the gentle execution of this shepherd. In 1821, Wyatt moved to Rome and was introduced to the sculptor, Antonio Canova, via the portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence. Canova, then the most famous sculptor of his time, invited Wyatt into his studio where he met another talented sculptor, John Gibson, who had already been working in Rome for four years. Following Canova’s death in 1822, Gibson and Wyatt worked briefly under Danish sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen before setting up independently, opposite each other, on Via della Fontanella Barberini. They became lifelong friends, and it is perhaps not surprising that this sculpture relates quite closely to Gibson’s ‘Cupid Disguised as a Shepherd Boy’ – commissioned for Sir John Johnstone and exhibited at the Royal Academy, of which subsequent full-sized replicas were made for Tsar Alexander II and Sir Robert Peel.
Wyatt's own success began with a commission from the Duchess of Devonshire in 1822, followed by the later patronage of Queen Victoria, for whom he carved several pieces including a portrait bust of the Queen herself. Consistently classical and in the tradition of Canova, Wyatt was a highly accomplished and sought-after sculptor whose works were much revered for their purity of taste, composition, and exquisite surface finish. His importance lies not only in his own work, but also in the profound influence that he and Gibson exercised over domestic English art during the 19th century.
Eastlake, Lady, ed. Life of John Gibson, RA. Sculptor. London, 1870.
J. M. Robinson, The Wyatts: An Architectural Dynasty. Oxford, 1979.
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