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Sir Richard Westmacott RA (1775 - 1856)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Richard Westmacott was born in London the son of Richard Westmacott, a sculptor, and Sarah Vardy, the daughter of a furniture carver. His father worked as a chimney piece sculptor and maker of church monuments.

At the age of fourteen, the younger Westmacott was apprenticed to his grandfather Thomas Vardy and when he was seventeen, he travelled to Italy and studied at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome from 1793 to 1795. He was a successful student, winning first prize in his final year at the academy. In Rome he also developed a friendship network of artists and architects, including the neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822).

Westmacott returned to London in 1796 and married Dorothy Margaret Wilson, the daughter of a Dr Wilkinson of Jamaica, in 1798. The couple would go on to have eight children together, including the sculptor Richard Westmacott Jnr. (1799-1872), after his father.

In 1797, Westmacott exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time, showing two marble busts. He gradually established himself as one of the leading sculptors of the era, being particularly known for his public monuments. His commission for the monument to the Scottish soldier and politician Sir Ralph Abercromby (1734-1801) in St Pauls, constructed between 1803 and 1809 consolidated his reputation and led the way to numerous public commissions.

One of these was the monument to Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford, erected in Bedford Square in 1809. This bronze sculpture helped revive the craft of bronze casting in Britain, with Westmacott also using this medium for monuments to Lord Nelson in Birmingham (1809), the duke of Wellington in Hyde Park, London (1814-22) and George III in Windsor Great Park.

Westmacott was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1805 and became a full Member in 1811. He became Professor of Sculpture in 1827, a position he held until his death in 1856.

Westmacott was primarily a sculptor in the neo-classical style, some of his commissions influenced by his contemporary Canova, notably the Psyche (1822) and Cupid (1823) both executed for John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford. The Psyche was particularly significant as Westmacott received the unprecedented sum of £1050 for the work, a price that could be commanded only by Canova, considered the leading sculptor of the day.

Westmacott was prolific as an artist, make as many as 275 works in his career. He was also an active and respected member or the British artistic establishment. Alongside his membership of the Royal Academy, he was also a member of the Society of Antiquaries and the Society of Dilettanti. In 1816 he was one of a board of experts who testified in favour of purchase of the Parthenon marbles from Lord Elgin in the House of Commons, and thenceforth served as an advisor on the display of antiquities in the British Museum. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1836 and was knighted in 1837. In 1843, he supervised the erection of the monument to Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square and acted as commissioner for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Having passed on most of his studio business to his son Richard, Westmacott died at his home in London in 1856.

RA Collections Decolonial Research Project - Extended Biography

Westmacott married Dorothy Margaret Wilkinson (d.1834) in 1798. She was born in Jamaica, the daughter of a Dr William Wilkinson.

Westmacott was one of the experts who testified in support of purchase of the Parthenon marbles from Lord Elgin, in the House of Commons in 1816 (see Note 1).

Notes

  1. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=NwUFAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP15&source=gbsselectedpages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed 29 April 2022)

Relevant ODNB entries

Busco, Marie. “Westmacott, Sir Richard (1775–1856), sculptor.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 29 Apr. 2022. https://www-oxforddnb-com.lonlib.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-29114

Profile

Royal Academician

Born: 15 July 1775 in London, England, United Kingdom

Died: 1 September 1856

Nationality: British

Elected ARA: 4 November 1805

Elected RA: 11 February 1811

Professor of Sculpture: 1827 - 1856

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Sculpture

Works by Sir Richard Westmacott in the RA Collection

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Works after Sir Richard Westmacott in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Sir Richard Westmacott in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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