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Sir Alfred Gilbert RA (1854 - 1934)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Sir Alfred Gilbert was born in London but schooled at Aldenham, Hertfordshire, where his father taught music. Gilbert failed to obtain a scholarship to become a surgeon, and instead pursued his interest in sculpture, studying first at Heatherley’s School and Royal Academy Schools (where he quickly became disillusioned with the training of sculptors). More valuable experience was obtained during this period from working part-time in the studios of established sculptors such as Edgar Boehm.

In 1875, Gilbert moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts – Boehm had suggested this, but another reason for doing so was to elope with his cousin Alice Jane Gilbert, who was expecting their child. In 1878 Gilbert moved to Italy, where he began to carve and cast, returning to England in 1884.

The years between 1885 and 1898 were Gilbert’s most productive – he made works including the jubilee memorial to Queen Victoria in Winchester, taught himself the art of the goldsmith. He became the first artist in Britain to cast in aluminium, using it to make the statue of Eros which crowns his Shaftesbury Memorial in Piccadilly Circus, London. Gilbert was elected as a Royal Academician in 1892 and demand for his work was increased by his status as the favourite sculptor of the royal family (Gilbert was a friend of Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise).

Gilbert’s popularity arguably triggered his downfall as the artist was unable to turn down commissions but he found them burdensome and regularly took many years to fulfil them. Eventually, clients tired of his failure to deliver works they had already paid for and accused him of cheating them. In 1901 Gilbert declared bankruptcy, sold off the contents of his house and studio, and moved his family to Bruges in Belgium where he started an unsuccessful art school. He still returned to London regularly and continued as professor of sculpture at the RA (1901–3 and 1905) but in 1908 accusations of dishonourable behaviour against Gilbert forced his resignation as an Academician.

After a long absence on the continent, Gilbert eventually returned to England in 1926. He was forgiven by George V who provided him with studios in royal palaces and this triggered a revival of Gilbert’s fortunes. He received a prestigious commission for a monument to Queen Alexandra which was unveiled in 1932, the same year he was reinstated as an Academician and knighted.

Profile

Royal Academician

Sculptor

Born: 12 August 1854 in London, England, United Kingdom

Died: 4 November 1934

Nationality: British

RA Schools student from 17 January 1874

Elected ARA: 7 January 1887

Elected RA: 8 December 1892

Elected Senior RA: 31 May 1932

Professor of Sculpture 1900-1904

Resigned: 25 Nov 1908

Rejoined: 31 May 1932

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Sculpture

Works by Sir Alfred Gilbert in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Sir Alfred Gilbert in the RA Collection

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Associated archives

48 results