John Flaxman

John Flaxman, Portrait Gallery


(6th July, 1755 – 7th December, 1826)

IT was not till the time of Banks and Flaxman, that the English school had produced any notable specimens of the lofty and heroic style in sculpture. Wilton, Bacon, and Nollekens, were respectable in their line, which was nearly confined to allegorical monuments and busts. Roubilliac, though eminently unclassical, possessed a superior style of art, and has executed some works which for strength and liveliness of expression may challenge competition in this or any other country. But the attainments and genius of the two first-mentioned artists were of a different, and a loftier class. Those, however, who trace the history of the lives of Flaxman and Banks, will find, that whatever they achieved in the higher departments of sculpture was due solely to their ardent pursuit of excellence, almost unaided by that patronage, which, in this country, has been so liberally bestowed on other branches of the fine arts.

The heroic beauty and noble proportions of the Mourning Achilles, fully establish the claim of Banks to a high rank as a poetic sculptor ; this fine work of art, however, remained for years in plaster during his life, and after his death was presented to the British Gallery, where it now stands in the hall, " as a warning," observes Mr. Allan Cunningham, " to all sculptors who enter, that works of classic fancy find slender encouragement here !" With respect to Flaxman, in an early period of his professional career, he executed the outline illustrations of Homer, Aeschylus, and Dante, which at once established his fame; and yet, during a long life, no single patron called upon him to embody in marble any one of these lofty conceptions, the very existence of which forms the chief glory of the English school of poetic design.