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John Gibson, RA, papers

RA Collection: Archive

Archive context

Showing item 22 of 72 in this group

Reference code



John Gibson, RA, papers


c. 1822-1866



Extent & medium

6 boxes

Previous reference codes

660 A-M

Historical Background

John Gibson, RA, was born in North Wales in 1790. He benefitted greatly in his early years from the patronage of the Liverpool collector William Roscoe. He went to Rome to study as a sculptor in 1817 and made his home there. His visits to England were infrequent during the remainder of his life, and he exhibits in his correspondence something of a phobia in relation to the British climate. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1833, and became a full member in 1838. His works comprise classical groups, portrait busts, memorials and bas reliefs. His style was purely, indeed austerely classical. His papers reveal both a profound worship for the principles of classical Greek art, and an abhorrence of the depiction of contemporary (modern) dress in sculpture. His work was extremely popular and he enjoyed a plentiful and highly successful career. Controversy, however, did accompany his experiments in polychromy, or the painting of statues, which he affirmed, correctly, had been the practice of the ancients. 'The Tinted Venus' is the most notable of such works. He died unmarried in 1866.

Content Description

The papers consist mostly of correspondence from patrons and friends, including letters from other artists, such as Sir Charles Eastlake, William Boxall and William Theed, as well as correspondence from, and references to his American pupil, Harriet Hosmer. The correspondence illustrates the operation of 19th century artistic patronage and the importance of possessing influential and well connected friends and clients at the end of the great period of English patronage of the expatriate artistic community in Rome. Gibson also kept many drafts and copies of his correspondence and there a number of two-way correspondence groups, such as that with the 4th Marquess of Londonderry. The rest of papers consists of miscellaneous artifacts, including Gibson's passport and two locks of ladies' hair, a body of notes on literary references recording the some of the cultural sources for Gibson's sculpture, papers relating to Gibson's estate and the donation of his works and personal property to the Royal Academy, and various notebooks, including personal accounts for the majority of his career, which record among other expenditure payments to the assistants in his studio in the via della Fontanella at Rome. There is also a journal, running from 1844 until the end of Gibson's life, which is, however, little more than a bare record of appointments with clients and friends.

Acquisition Details

Presented to the Royal Academy under the terms of John Gibson's will in 1866, together with the bulk of his fortune of £32,000 and the contents of his studio (now in the Gibson Gallery). The presentation is mentioned in the Annual Reports for 1865 and 1866.


The order of the 1974 finding aid has been retained. The correspondence of GI/1 is arranged in roughly alphabetical order.

Finding Aids

HMC NRA list by Jean Agnew, February 1974.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [DNB.]

Life of John Gibson, edited by Lady Eastlake, 1870.

Biography of John Gibson, RA, by T. Mattthews.

'John Gibson, An English Pupil of Thorwaldsen', by Hans Fletcher (Apollo, vol. xcvi, October 1972.